JOHANNESBURG – A group of Nobel peace laureates on Thursday suspended plans to hold an annual meeting in South Africa because they said the government there refused to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama.
The announcement came after retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, a periodic critic of South Africa's ruling party, described the government as a "lickspittle bunch" for its alleged deference to China, a close business partner.
The Tibetan spiritual leader is labeled a separatist by China. He had sought a South African visa so he could attend the meeting of Nobel peace laureates in Cape Town meant to honor the late South African president and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela.
However, meeting organizers said the peace laureates had requested that it be relocated if the Dalai Lama was not granted a visa, and that South African President Jacob Zuma had not responded to their appeals on behalf of the Dalai Lama.
"The attending peace laureates and laureate institutions have agreed to withhold their collective attendance in protest at the decision" by the South African government, the office in charge of the meeting said in a statement. It said it would evaluate proposals for a relocation of the forum.
A total of 14 peace laureates and representatives of 11 organizations that have been awarded the prize were scheduled to attend the Cape Town conference.
The South African government had said that the Dalai Lama canceled his planned visit while South Africa's diplomats in New Delhi were processing his visa application.
Tutu said it was shameful that the Dalai Lama cannot attend the Oct. 13-15 meeting to honor Mandela, who died last year. Tutu is a friend of the Dalai Lama and, like the Dalai Lama and Mandela, is also a fellow Nobel peace laureate. Tutu also accused the South African government of "kowtowing to the Chinese" and preventing the Dalai Lama from traveling to South Africa in 2011 to attend his 80th birthday party.
"I warned them then that just as we had prayed for the downfall of the apartheid government, so we would pray for the demise of a government that could be so spineless," Tutu said in a statement.
Tutu said Mandela's own "comrades have spat in his face," and he concluded: "I am ashamed to call this lickspittle bunch my government."
Tutu received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his nonviolent campaign against white racist rule, which ended when South Africa held its first all-race elections a decade later.