A South African government official has rejected a last-minute request by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to grant a travel visa to the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, who was scheduled to visit the country for Tutu's 80th birthday celebrations this week.
After months of delays by South African authorities, the Dalai Lama cancelled his trip on Tuesday, saying he had not received a visa in time.
But Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe told local newspapers the following day that his government would have issued the Buddhist leader a visa if he had not cancelled his trip.
On Wednesday, Tutu's office wrote a letter to Motlanthe, urging him to make good on his promise and intervene to allow the Dalai Lama to enter the country.
But a spokesperson for Mr. Motlanthe said on Thursday that the deputy president rejected the request because he "cannot get involved in visa applications."
The visa debacle has outraged many in South Africa, with hundreds of protesters holding a demonstration on Wednesday at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg to protest the government's response to the issue.
Many believe that South Africa is under pressure from China, a key trading partner, to block the Dalai Lama's visit. China regularly discourages foreign leaders from hosting the exiled Tibetan leader, whom they regard as being a separatist.
Deputy President Motlanthe recently returned from a diplomatic visit to China, where authorities praised him for his country's "valuable support" on the Tibetan issue. South African authorities deny being under pressure from China to not allow the visit.
Earlier this week at an impassioned news conference, Tutu, a prominent anti-apartheid leader, blasted the administration of President Jacob Zuma over the visa issue, saying his government is worse than the country's former apartheid regime.
The ruling African National Congress party said Tutu's comments were "unfortunate," and that he should hear the government's side before making accusations.
The Dalai Lama, who originally applied for the travel visa in June, had been scheduled to deliver the inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture at the University of the Western Cape on Saturday.