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Rediff.com  » Sports » Tibet to stay on Olympic torch route despite riots

Tibet to stay on Olympic torch route despite riots

March 19, 2008 17:39 IST

Shrugging off violent protests that have shaken Tibet, China said on Wednesday that the Olympic torch would go through the Himalayan region as planned on its way to August's Beijing Games.

"The situation in Tibet has essentially stabilised, the Olympic torch relay will proceed as scheduled," Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, told a news conference.

"Please be assured that whatever happens in ... Tibet, those events will never affect the normal operations of the torch relay."

The crackdown on the protests in Tibet and neighbouring Chinese provinces, which may have killed dozens of people, have sparked calls for a boycott of Beijing's showcase Games.

China accuses the exiled leader of Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama, of orchestrating the rash of monk-led protests and rioting -- the most serious in the Himalayan region for nearly two decades -- in a bid to wreck the Aug. 8-24 Games.

Tibet's Communist Party secretary, Zhang Qingli, lashed out at the Dalai Lama on Wednesday, warning "we are engaged in a fierce battle of blood and fire with the Dalai clique, a life-and-death struggle between the foe and us".

"The Dalai is a jackal in Buddhist monk's robes, an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast," Zhang told a teleconference of the region's government and Party leaders, according to the China Tibet News.

The spiritual leader denies he masterminded the protests -- which culminated last Friday in a riot in the capital of Tibet, Lhasa -- from his base in the Indian town of Dharamsala. He says he wants greater autonomy for his homeland, not independence, as China suspects.

His government-in-exile says 99 people died when Chinese security forces moved to quell the riot, but Beijing says 13 "innocent civilians" were killed in the violence.

BOYCOTT TALK

The authorities are keen to stamp out the unrest quickly and restore stability in the far-west before the Olympics, which they hope will showcase China's prosperity and unity.

The Tibetan protests add to the ruling Communist Party's headaches ahead of the Olympics, which include the risk of social instability due to mounting inflation after years of breakneck growth, fears of militant attacks by Uighurs in the remote Muslim region of Xinjiang, and criticism of the pollution in Beijing.

Tibetan activists demonstrated outside the International Olympic Committee (IOC)'s headquarters in Lausanne on Tuesday, demanding Tibet be withdrawn from the torch relay.

The relay, which starts when it is lit in Ancient Olympia, Greece, next Monday, is scheduled to visit Tibet twice.

When the flame arrives in Beijing on March 31 before embarking on its journey around the world, a second torch will be lit and taken to Tibet, where Chinese climbers will attempt to take it to the top of Mount Everest. The attempt will take place in early May whenever the weather conditions on the world's tallest mountain are most suitable.

Tibet is also on the domestic leg of the relay in June.

IOC President Jacques Rogge said on Monday that no governments had called for a Games boycott.

But Press watchdog Reporters Without Borders urged officials to boycott the Olympics' opening ceremony over the "brutal repression" in Tibet, an idea French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said France would consider.

And European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering, a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party, urged politicians on Tuesday to consider boycotting the Games.

"We cannot agree with what is happening in Tibet. The Chinese must realise that," Poettering said on Tuesday.

Foreign media are denied access to Tibet without permission, making it difficult to verify the competing claims for the number killed and official reports that the protests have died down.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said it had been informed of 30 incidents in which journalists faced obstructions reporting on the issue from western provinces.

Reuters journalists in Sichuan province were turned back by security forces on the road to ethnic Tibetan areas on Wednesday.

They said they were taken off a public bus at a police check-point at Yajiang, a village on a major highway leading to Lhasa, and sent on a minibus east back to the town of Kangding.

"It is closed to all foreigners and tourists," a police officer told them. "There is nothing to see now, but you're welcome to come back some other time."

Nick Mulvenney and Lindsay Beck
Source:
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