Nobel Peace Prize laureates who had planned to gather in Cape Town in mid-October to honor the late Nelson Mandela announced Thursday that they were canceling or relocating the summit in protest of the South African government's refusal to issue a visa for the Dalai Lama.
South Africa's government has close ties with China, whose rule over Tibet drove the Tibetan spiritual leader to live in exile for the last 50 years.
Organizers of the annual gathering lashed out at the Pretoria government for caving in to Chinese pressure to isolate the Dalai Lama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille denounced the government of President Jacob Zuma for its "appalling treatment" of the Dalai Lama, who has now been denied entry to South Africa three times over the last five years, the South African Press Assn. reported.
Zuma justified the denial of the Dalai Lama's request to visit in 2009 by saying China's concerns had to be "respected." China is South Africa's biggest trading partner and the two nations are aligned in an economic bloc known as BRICS, uniting Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
The Zuma government failed to respond to the Dalai Lama's 2011 visa request to attend the 80th birthday of his friend and fellow Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
De Lille said 14 Peace Prize recipients and 11 organizations honored with the award had planned to attend the Oct. 13-15 summit and that many had joined in an appeal to the South African government to grant the Dalai Lama a visa for the event.
"The national government has treated our requests and those of the laureates themselves with disdain, and in so doing showed that they are more intent on pleasing Beijing than with ensuring that a prestigious international event is held in South Africa, which was intended to celebrate the late Nelson Mandela and 20 years of democracy," De Lille said in announcing the cancellation of the Cape Town summit.
From his place in exile in Dharamsala, India, the Dalai Lama accused the South African leadership of "bullying a humble and weak person who has no protection" by refusing to let him gather with fellow laureates, the Hindustan Times reported.
Tutu denounced Zuma's administration in a statement as "spineless" in its subservience to China and willingness to let Beijing's widely criticized exclusion of the Dalai Lama derail the Cape Town event meant to honor antiapartheid icon Mandela, who died Dec. 5 at the age of 95.
"I am ashamed to call this lickspittle bunch my government," Tutu, the 1984 Peace Prize recipient, stated in his emailed statement.
An alternative venue and later date for the gathering were being considered, De Lille told reporters, but no firm plan for relocation had been decided.