The Dalai Lama had planned to travel from New Delhi, India to Ulan Bator, Mongolia, via Seoul in September. The airline refused to sell him a ticket on Wednesday, said the Dalai Lama Visit Preparation Committee, a Buddhist group campaigning for his visit to South Korea. "We cannot understand the airline's refusal to allow an internationally recognized religious leader to make a transit flight," the group said in a statement. "We are curious how much pressure there was from China."
Asiana confirmed it had denied the Dalai Lama a transit flight but said it did so for security reasons. "We had respectfully asked the Dalai Lama to take a route that doesn't stop in Seoul for his and other passengers' safety," said Kim Haeng-seok, an Asiana spokesman. Asked to elaborate on the security concerns, he said: "Some people like the Dalai Lama. Some people don't."
The Buddhist group has invited the Dalai Lama to South Korea several times. But the South Korean government, concerned about relations with China, has refused to grant him an entry visa.
China urges other countries not to host the Dalai Lama, saying he is a separatist who should be denied a forum to promote his campaign for Tibetan autonomy. Last week, Russia refused him entry for the second time in a year.
China annexed Tibet by force in 1950. A Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama went into exile in India after a violent anti-Chinese uprising in 1959. With an estimated 12 million followers, Buddhism is the largest religion in South Korea, which has a population of 47 million.