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Peace Meeting Postponed After Dalai Lama Barred from South Africa

A meeting of major peace advocates and the Nobel Peace Committee in Johannesburg has been shelved indefinitely after the South African government bowed to pressure from China and refused to grant the Dalai Lama a visa.

The Dalai Lama

China has been stepping up a global offensive to isolate the Dalai Lama

A peace conference in Johannesburg, which was to have been held Friday, March 26, has been postponed after the South African government refused to grant the Dalai Lama a visa to enter the country in order to attend the event.

The South African government has admitted that it decided to bar the Dalai Lama because it didn't want to undermine relations with China.

A cabinet statement released late Wednesday said that while South Africa had not acted on a specific demand from Beijing, it was not prepared to "jeopardize" ties nor allow itself to be used as a political platform in the run-up to the hosting of next year's soccer World Cup.

"A choice was made in this particular case that our interests will be better served if we give priority to making sure that we don't jeopardise our bilateral relations with China in this particular case," government spokesman Themba Maseko said in the statement.

Dalai Lama's response

Poster to advertise the Football World Cup in South Africa

Hosting the Football World Cup is seen as a major achievement for South Africa

The peace conference was meant to be a platform to discuss how to use soccer as a way to fight racism in the run up to the World Cup which will be held in South Africa in 2010.

The Dalai Lama's chief negotiator, Lodi Gyari, said China had only damaged its own attempts at closer ties with Africa by pressuring South Africa into refusing to allow the Tibetan spiritual leader to enter the country.

According to the Associated Press, Gyari, speaking at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, said that the Dalai Lama himself felt sorry for indirectly causing the event's disruption.

South Africa's Health Minister Barbara Hogan had also spoken out against the decision, calling on the government to apologize.

The cabinet statement slammed Hogan, saying there would be consequences and that it was "unfortunate that the minister chose to go to a public platform to attack a decision of government."

The meeting

The Dalai Lama (left) sits with Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (right) regards the Dalai Lama as a personal friend

The decision to shelve the meeting indefinitely came after two of the Nobel laureates invited - former South African president FW de Klerk and Archbishop Desmond Tutu - pulled out in protest at the government refusal to grant the visa.

Among those who had planned to attend were Queen Rania of Jordan, the entire Nobel Peace Committee, other Nobel laureates and the Hollywood actress Charlize Theron, a native of South Africa.

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