South African archbishop Desmond Tutu says the country’s government is worse than the old apartheid regime for failing to issue a travel visa to the Dalai Lama.
Tutu made his comments Tuesday, soon after the Dalai Lama said South Africa’s failure to give him a visa had forced him to cancel plans to attend this week’s 80th birthday celebrations for Tutu, an anti-apartheid leader.
The Dalai Lama’s office said it is convinced that South Africa’s government “finds it inconvenient” to issue a travel visa to the Tibetan spiritual leader.
South African officials have denied being under pressure from China, a key trading partner, to block the visit. China regularly applies diplomatic pressure to governments that permit visits by the Dalai Lama.
China has often accused the Dalai Lama and his followers of advocating Tibetan secession, despite repeated assurances from the Buddhist leader that he only seeks to establish autonomy, rather than independence, for Tibet.
The Dalai Lama has visited South Africa three times in the past, but his fourth visa application in 2009 was turned down.
The Dalai Lama requested another visa five months ago so he could attend Tutu’s birthday celebrations, which begin on Thursday.
Earlier this week, a joint statement by the Desmond Tutu Peace Center and the Office of Tibet in Pretoria said the South African government has been “profoundly disrespectful” to the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu, both Nobel Peace Prize winners.
South Africa’s deputy vice president recently returned from a diplomatic visit to China, where authorities praised him for his country’s “valuable support” on the Tibetan issue. voa