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Threat to Dalai Lama's Tutu visit

South African officials may prevent the Dalai Lama from celebrating the 80th birthday of his friend and fellow Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu amid fears that Chinese pressure is trumping the country's much-vaunted policies on freedom of speech and human rights.

South African newspapers are already drawing parallels between the situations of Tibetans under Chinese rule and black South Africans under the racist apartheid regime that ended in 1994.

The tensions over the Dalai Lama's visa application are also a sign of how powerful China's influence has become in Africa.

"Our leadership has a clear choice: to look deep into the African soul and emulate (Nelson) Mandela's actions by extending a hand of friendship, while at the same time understanding that it won't, in fact, have any real impact on our relations with China," said an editorial in the Daily Maverick.

The Dalai Lama is due to deliver the inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace lecture, entitled Peace And Compassion As Catalyst For Change, as part of the October 6-8 birthday celebrations for the Archbishop.

The Desmond Tutu Peace Centre, which invited the Dalai Lama to South Africa, said he first tried to apply for a visa in June but was told it was too far ahead of his trip. Later South African officials said they could not process the visa with a photocopied passport of the Buddhist leader and had to wait for him to submit his original document.

"We've sent letters, following up on a daily basis with phone calls and still are in a situation where there is no response and it's getting us much more anxious," said Peace Centre chief executive Nomfundo Wazala. "We have been patient, but we really feel at this point in time we deserve an answer."

The Dalai Lama fled the Himalayan region in 1959 amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule and is reviled by Beijing as a separatist. China says Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the region was virtually independent for centuries.

The 76-year-old leader insists he is only seeking increased autonomy for Tibet, not independence. He gave up his political role in the Tibetan exile movement in March, but he remains its spiritual head, beloved by Buddhists around the world.

Archbishop Tutu, revered for the part he played to end apartheid, called it "disgraceful" and accused the government of "shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure" - a charge officials denied.

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