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New Zealand bars Mike Tyson as tour debacle looms

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand canceled a visa for Mike Tyson today because of his rape conviction, saying it reversed its earlier approval because a charity that would have benefited from his appearance says it wants nothing to do with the former heavyweight boxing champion.

Tyson had said he had been looking forward to meeting New Zealand's indigenous Maori people, the inspiration for his notorious facial tattoo. But now his whole Downunder speaking tour, scheduled for next month, is threatening to fall apart: Australian immigration authorities said they've yet to decide whether to let him in.

Tyson's 1992 rape conviction would normally prevent his entry in New Zealand and could be grounds for denial in Australia as well. New Zealand's denial came days after Prime Minister John Key spoke out against the visit.

Tyson was to speak at a November event in Auckland, the "Day of the Champions," which is being promoted by Sydney agency Markson Sparks. On Wednesday the agency continued to promote tickets for appearances in New Zealand and five major Australian cities.

New Zealand's Associate Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson said she initially granted entry because a children's health charity would get some of the proceeds from Tyson's speech. She said in a statement her decision was "a finely balanced call" but that the charity that would have benefited, the Life Education Trust, withdrew its support Tuesday.

The charity's chief executive, John O'Connell, however, said the charity long ago decided not to accept any money from the event due to its concerns over Tyson's character, O'Connell said a volunteer trustee mistakenly sent a letter to immigration authorities supporting Tyson's plans.

Promoter Max Markson said he's continuing to sell tickets — at between $71 and $308 — and will give refunds if Tyson cannot appear. He said he had been "hoping it might be a smoother run," but remained confident Australia would grant Tyson a visa and that New Zealand would reverse its decision when he found another suitable charity.

"He'll only be in the country for 20 hours, I don't think he's a danger to anybody, and thousands of people want to see him," Markson said.

Would-be visitors to Australia normally must pass a character test. Those who have a "substantial criminal record" — including people who, like Tyson, have been sentenced to more than a year in prison — fail the test. But the department can use its discretion to grant such people visas.

Tyson was sentenced to six years in prison for the 1991 rape of an 18-year-old woman in an Indianapolis hotel room. He served three years before being released on parole.

A spokesman for Australia's Department of Immigration and Citizenship said, "I can tell you that a decision is still pending" on Tyson's application.

Speaking to the APNZ news agency this week from Las Vegas before his New Zealand visa was canceled, Tyson said his tattoo was inspired by those worn by New Zealand's indigenous Maori. In pre-European times, many Maori wore elaborate facial tattoos as a sign of their status in their tribe. Some Maori today who identify strongly with their traditional culture get similar tattoos.

Tyson told the agency that, aside from their tattoos, he knew little about the Maori people, "so I'm looking forward to come down there and see them."

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