China bans Everest climbs to clear way for Olympic torch
Mount Everest mountaineering expeditions are banned for spring as China fears Tibet protests over climb to summit with Olympics torch
BEIJING — China is denying mountaineers permission to climb its side of Mount Everest this spring, a move that reflects government concerns that Tibet activists may try to disrupt plans to carry the Olympic torch to the world's tallest peak.
Taking the Olympic flame to Everest's 29,035-foot summit is shaping up to be one of the grandest and most politicized feats of an already politicized Beijing Games. The relay directly touches on one of China's most sensitive issues: its often harsh 57-year-rule over Tibet.
Beijing maintains that Tibet is historically part of China, but many Tibetans argue the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries and accuse China of trying to crush Tibetan culture by swamping it with Han people, the majority Chinese ethnic group.
Tibetan activist groups have criticized the Olympic torch run up Everest as an attempt by Beijing to add legitimacy to Chinese control of Tibet.
A letter sent this week by the government's China Tibet Mountaineering Association to expedition companies said climbs of Everest and Mount Cho-Oyu, which straddle the border between Chinese-controlled Tibet and Nepal, should be postponed until after May 10.
The letter, which was posted on a foreign mountaineering Web site and verified Wednesday by the association, cited "heavy climbing activities" as among the reasons. But mountaineering groups, incensed by the decision, said the main reason is the torch relay ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August.
"No matter whether you're an individual or a group, it's impossible to get permission to climb the mountain" from March to June, said Li Hua of the Tibet Polar Land Exploration Tourist Co. in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.
Plans to bring the torch to the summit are shrouded in secrecy, but preparations made by the Beijing Olympic organizers point to an early May ascent.
Activists have in the past unfurled banners at the Everest base camp and the Great Wall of China calling for Tibet's independence.
In a sign of the inflamed passions surrounding Tibet, some 300 Buddhist monks staged a demonstration in Lhasa this week, the largest protest march in nearly two decades. Separately in India, several hundred Tibetan exiles tried to get past Indian police and launch a protest march to Tibet to coincide with the Olympics.
"Beijing is using the Olympics torch ceremony, which should stand for human freedoms and dignity, to bolster its territorial claim over Tibet," John Ackerly, president of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, said in a statement.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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