8 December 2013, 15:15

Dalai Lama not to attend Mandela funeral - official

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

The Dalai Lama, who has twice since 2009 been denied a visa for South Africa, is not planning to attend his fellow Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela's funeral, his spokesman said Sunday.

."He has no plans to go," spokesman Tenzin Takhla said in the northern Indian hilltop town of Dharamsala where the Tibetan spiritual leader is headquartered

.Takhla did not say why the Dalai Lama would not attend Mandela's national memorial service on Tuesday or the December 15 burial at his boyhood home of Qunu.

But the Dalai Lama was controversially denied a visa to South Africa in 2011 after being invited to give a lecture as part of celebrations for the 80th birthday of Mandela's fellow anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu.

It was the second time that Pretoria had denied the Dalai Lama entry after refusing him a visa in 2009.

The Dalai Lama has been based in India since he fled China in 1959 followed a failed anti-Beijing uprising in his homeland.

China seeks to curb his overseas travels, and warns foreign governments that any visit by the spiritual leader would harm relations.Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of being a separatist and of fomenting trouble in his homeland.

The Dalai Lama says he merely seeks more autonomy for his people though non-violent means.

South Africans from all religions were united Sunday in prayer and reflection, as hundreds of services were held across the country in honour of national icon Nelson Mandela. Government designated Sunday a nationwide day of prayer to mark the formal start of a week-long state memorial, which will culminate in a funeral service at Mandela's ancestral village of Qunu on December 15.

President Jacob Zuma joined prayers in a Methodist Church in Johannesburg, while former president Thabo Mbeki attended a service in a synagogue.

Hundreds of people were expected at the country's largest Catholic church in township Soweto, as well as in Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's Anglican St George's cathedral in Cape Town.

A close friend of Mandela's, parliamentarian Bantu Holomisa, for the first time recounted the last moments he spent with South Africa's "father of the nation," who died Thursday evening surrounded by family in his home in Johannesburg.

Mandela's wife Graca Machel, his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as well as many of his children and grandchildren were present.

"I stood there. I saw Madiba is worse than he was," Holomisa told local radio station Cape Talk, referring to Mandela by his clan name.

"Then I nodded to Mama Graca and Winnie and asked the doctors to take me out (of the room)," he added.

According to South African newspaper Sunday Times, the former freedom fighter was not on a life support machine but breathing on his own before he died.

The days since Mandela's death have not been easy for his relatives, said family spokesman Themba Mathanzima.

"His presence was like a baobab tree that provided a comforting shade that served as protection and security for us. The pillar of the family is gone," he said.

As the number of global heads of states and dignitaries expected to attend the apartheid fighter's memorial service is growing, government said it was preparing to meet the "logistical challenge" to arrange the burial of the nation's first black president.

A list of international leaders expected to attend will be announced later on Sunday, officials said.

French President Francois Hollande, US President Barack Obama, former US presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Jimmy Carter as well as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon already confirmed their attendance.

More than 2,500 journalists from around the world have been accredited to cover the events.

Meanwhile Mandela's body was being prepared by medical teams for a lying-in-state to begin Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of people were first expected to flock Tuesday to the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg for a memorial service for Mandela.

Additional sites are being set up around the country to accommodate the droves expected to turn out despite the government declining to announce an official public holiday.

Mandela's body is to be moved from a mortuary in the capital, Pretoria, to the nearby Union Buildings, the official seat of government, on each day of the lying-in-state from Wednesday to Friday.

The government said it was not able to comment yet on whether the casket would be opened or closed.

The funeral for Mandela, who died at age 95, was expected to be among the biggest for a statesman in decades.

More than 8,000 people would be at the event, according to the government.

A traditional service is to take place quietly in Qunu on December 14, followed by the larger state funeral and burial December 15.

To keep space available for visiting dignitaries, all hotels and car rentals in Pretoria and Johannesburg had been "blocked out," travel agents said.

Read more:

- Obama to attend Mandela memorial Tuesday in Johannesburg

- He made time for the rich and the poor - Mandela family

- Mandela's funeral cortege will travel through Pretoria on three consecutive days

Voice of Russia, dpa, AFP

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