Tutu will boycott anti-racism conference if Dalai Lama stays banned

By Agencies
March 24, 2009

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has said he will pull out of a Johannesburg conference to fight racism after a "disgraceful" decision by Pretoria to ban the Dalai Lama from attending.

Dr Tutu, who is a globally recognised human rights campaigners, and struggled long and hard against apartheid in his homeland, says South Africa has "shamefully" capitulated to Chinese pressure.

The Nobel peace prize committee has also said it will boycott the conference on Friday 27 March 2009, which is dedicated to tackling racial injustice and prejudice ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

The row threatens to draw in Nelson Mandela, who, with his fellow South African laureates, invited the Tibetan spiritual leader.

It further embarrasses South Africa, which has been accused of squandering its moral authority since ending apartheid by blocking UN security council moves to pressure rogue governments in Burma and Zimbabwe.

Archbsihop Tutu told Johannesburg's Sunday Independent newspaper that he will not attend the conference if the Dalai Lama is not present.

"If His Holiness's visa is refused, then I won't take part in the coming 2010 World Cup-related peace conference. I will condemn [the] government's behaviour as disgraceful, in line with our country's abysmal record at the United Nations security council, a total betrayal of our struggle's history," he declared.

"We are shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure. I feel deeply distressed and ashamed," added Dr Tutu.

The FW de Klerk Foundation, established by South Africa's last white president, said it would also pull out of the conference, albeit reluctantly.

"South Africa is a sovereign constitutional democracy and should not allow other countries to dictate to it regarding who it should and should not admit to its territory," the foundation said in a statement.

"Mr De Klerk has been in touch with Archbishop Tutu and identifies himself with the views that he has expressed with regard to the refusal of the South African government to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama."

The Norwegian Nobel peace prize committee also condemned the South African decision.

"It is impossible for us to be part of an event where one of the main participants is not able to enter the country," said Geir Lundestad, the committee's secretary.

The Tibetan government in exile in India today blamed "intense pressure" from China, which has become one of South Africa's largest trading partners.

The claim was apparently confirmed by the Chinese embassy in Pretoria, reports the Guardian newspaper.

The minister counsellor at the embassy, Dai Bing, was quoted as telling the South African media that his government had warned that allowing the Tibetan spiritual leader to attend the conference would damage bilateral relations.

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