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Desmond Tutu marks 80th birthday; hears wishes from Dalai Lama

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 1:51 PM EDT, Fri October 7, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The Dalai Lama wishes Tutu well and says he is sad about his canceled trip
  • South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu turns 80
  • Dalai Lama scraps a planned visit to attend Tutu's birthday after a visa delay
  • Tutu says the government is acting worse than apartheid regime

Johannesburg (CNN) -- South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu turned 80 on Friday, days after a spat with the government over a visa delay that forced the Dalai Lama to cancel a trip to the nation.

Tutu celebrated Thursday by dancing with the Soweto Gospel Choir during a church celebration to mark his birthday.

Music and laughter rang out in the cathedral during the event attended by Irish rocker Bono of U2.

The Dalai Lama had hoped to deliver birthday greetings personally but scrapped his planned visit after South Africa failed to issue him a visa in time.

Instead, the Tibetan spiritual leader wished Tutu well in a webcast.

"Please take care," the Dalai Lama said. "I will pray both to god as well as Buddha for your long life and healthy body."

"I am quite sad," he said. "And also this time, I was very much hoping to see Nelson Mandela, (who is) now very old. Now I have doubt whether I will have the occasion to meet Nelson Mandela or not."

Mandela turned 93 this year.

Tutu lashed out at his government Tuesday, saying it had forgotten what the nation stood for.

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"When we used to apply for passports under the apartheid government, we never knew until the last moment what their decision was," Tutu said at a news conference. "Our government is worse than the apartheid government because at least you were expecting it from the apartheid government.

The Dalai Lama had been invited to the country to receive a peace award and speak at various events, including a lecture in honor of Tutu's birthday. Tutu and the Dalai Lama are recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.

South Africa denies the visa was linked to pressure from China, a major trade partner. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and the nation pressures governments worldwide to deny him any legitimacy.

Despite the setback, tributes came in early Friday for the man known fondly as "the people's priest" and hailed for his fight for human rights.

In a birthday message, the U.S. Embassy in South Africa said he "continues to provide a moral voice for the voiceless."

"We congratulate Archbishop Desmond Tutu ... and join South Africa and the global community in honoring a man who is recognized for his fearlessness in speaking truth to power," the embassy in Pretoria said in a statement.

"From his work against apartheid in South Africa, to his championing of democracy, freedom and human rights, and advocacy for those still living under the scourge of homophobia, racism or xenophobia, Archbishop Tutu has served as the vocal conscience of a generation."

This is not the first time the Dalai Lama has not been able to visit South Africa.

Two years ago, South Africa refused the Tibetan spiritual leader a visa to attend an international peace conference, saying it was not in the country's interest for him to attend.

CNN's Kim Norgaard contributed to this report.

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