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South Africa Says Dalai Lama Visit Would Detract From World Cup

South Africa says China played no role in its decision to bar Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, from attending a peace conference this week in Johannesburg.

Activists for Tibet say China, which is one of South Africa's major trading partners, pressured the government into denying a visa to the Dalai Lama.

A spokesman for South African President Kgalema Motlanthe told reporters Monday that South Africa makes its own decisions. But he added that a visit from the Tibetan spiritual leader at this time would not be in the country's best interests.

The spokesman said the visit would distract attention from South Africa hosting next year's football World Cup.

The peace conference was scheduled to bring together four Nobel Peace Prize winners to discuss how sporting events can promote racial and ethnic harmony.

Retired Cape Town Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former presidents F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela had issued invitations to fellow Nobel peace laureates like the Dalai Lama on behalf of the South African soccer officials who organized the conference.

Tutu and members of the Nobel Committee have now canceled plans to attend because the Dalai Lama was barred.

"(South Africa) should admit anyone with a legitimate and peaceful interest and should not take political decisions on who should, and who should not, attend," de Klerk said in a statement Monday. Former president FW de Klerk withdrew today from the 2010 World Cup peace conference in Johannesburg this week because of government’s refusal to grant the Dalai Lama a visa.

The Dalai Lama has led a Tibetan government-in-exile in India since an uprising against Chinese rule in his homeland failed in 1959. He was awarded the Nobel prize for peace in 1989, four years before former South African presidents F.W. DeKlerk and Nelson Mandela received the same honor.

They and Bishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 peace laureate, were all scheduled to take part in the Johannesburg conference.

The Dalai Lama has visited South Africa at least two times before, and the government suggested Monday that it will allow visits in the future.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.