Page last updated at 08:06 GMT, Friday, 15 May 2009 09:06 UK

South Africa in Dalai Lama U-turn

Dalai Lama in India, 11 March
Beijing opposed the planned visit of the Dalai Lama to South Africa

South Africa's government has made a U-turn over its decision in March to deny the Dalai Lama a visa.

New International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said Tibet's spiritual leader could now visit whenever he wanted.

The government caused an international outcry when it said it would not allow him to attend a peace conference, linked to the 2010 Football World Cup.

Critics accused South Africa of caving in to Chinese pressure.

The visa ban prompted Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former South African President FW de Klerk to pull out of the conference for Nobel laureates, forcing organisers to postpone it indefinitely.

Despite the furore at the time, government spokesman Thabo Masebe said no visa would be issued "between now and the World Cup", which South Africa is hosting. The government said his presence would distract attention from the World Cup - the first to be held in Africa.

But Ms Nkoana-Mashabane, appointed this week to newly elected President Jacob Zuma's cabinet, said she wanted to clarify the position.

"The Dalai Lama is more than free, like any other citizen of the globe, who would want to visit our country," she told journalists.

Beijing says the Dalai Lama is pushing for Tibetan independence, and has stirred up unrest in the region.

But the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 during an uprising against Chinese rule, has said he only wants limited autonomy for his homeland.

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