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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Tibetan activists take stand in torch relay's path demonstrations pose challenges for Beijing and Olympic sponsors

March 15, 2008

March 14, 2008

SHANGHAI -- Tensions over Tibet are rising as Tibetan activists mount
coordinated protests ahead of the start of the Olympic torch relay
later this month.

In response, China is stepping up security in the province and
restricting access to Mount Everest as it seeks to prevent disruption
of the highly symbolic event and of the Beijing Olympic Games in
August. The relay, which is scheduled to travel through 20 countries
before reaching China in May, is expected to scale Mount Everest, but
China has kept details of that plan, including the timing, secret.

Yesterday in India, home to many Tibetan exiles, police arrested more
than 100 protesters during a march opposing China's hosting of the
Games. Tibetan refugees were also detained Monday in neighboring Nepal
after thousands of them attempted to march to the Chinese Embassy in
Katmandu, Nepal's capital, with "Free Tibet" placards.

Armed Chinese police stood guard yesterday outside Jokhang monastery,
the site of one of two protests in and around the Tibetan capital of
Lhasa on Monday, the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against
Chinese rule. Dozens of people were arrested Monday after hundreds of
monks tried to march to the city center.

The protests coincided with an unusually blunt speech by the Dalai
Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, and a demonstration
in San Francisco, the only U.S. city that will be visited by the
Beijing Games' international torch relay.

"Tibetans know that the world's media is looking at China in the
run-up to the Olympics. That's why they are taking these very
courageous actions," said Matt Whitticase, a spokesman for the
London-based Free Tibet Campaign, an activist group.

The demonstrations pose challenges for the Chinese government and for
the Games' corporate sponsors, who are caught between the risks of
offending Beijing and the dangers of alienating customers more
sympathetic to activists' causes, ranging from Tibet to China's close
ties to Sudan, which is battling rebels in Darfur.

The international torch relay presents a high-profile target for
activists. Advocates for Tibet are seizing the opportunity, with plans
to stage protests along the route. Some groups are even mounting their
own torch relay.

Beijing's Olympics organizing committee said Thursday, "Any behavior
to politicize the Olympics violates the tenets of the Olympics." The
committee also said, "Since ancient times, Tibet has been an
indivisible part of Chinese territory."

A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee said in a
statement, "We respect the rights of organizations to stage peaceful
demonstrations" and called on protesters to also respect "the
experience of the torchbearers and spectators."

Chinese Communist troops occupied Tibet in 1951. The Dalai Lama fled
into exile after the failed uprising in 1959, and China's government
has tried to stamp out political dissent. In recent years, Beijing has
begun to invest heavily in Tibet, on the theory that economic
development will help win over the local population. But Tibet remains
one of the poorest and least-developed parts of China.

On Monday, the Dalai Lama, speaking to supporters in Dharmsala, India,
the seat of his government in exile, said: "During the past few years,
Tibet has witnessed increased repression and brutality." He said China
has committed "unimaginable and gross violations of human rights" and
denies Tibetans their "religious freedom."

Tibetan monks and lay people were involved in protests in Lhasa on
Monday, the Chinese government said. Tibetan exile groups said more
demonstrations took place on Tuesday, during which crowds were
tear-gassed while protesting the arrest of marchers the day before.
People in Lhasa reached by phone said they were unaware of further
demonstrations but said there was a heavy police presence in the city.

A spokesman for China's foreign ministry, Qin Gang, confirmed Monday's
incidents, saying: "Some ignorant monks in Lhasa abetted by a small
handful of people did some illegal things."

Beijing's torch relay has caused controversy since the planning
stages. Organizers wanted it to pass through Taiwan, which China
regards as part of its territory. Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council
attacked the move as "a brazen attempt to downgrade Taiwan to a part
of China." The torch relay route now excludes Taiwan.

In a letter to mountaineering expedition companies this week, the
China Tibet Mountaineering Association, which issues permits for
people hoping to climb Everest, said that all ascents of the north
side of that Himalayan peak and another mountain must be postponed.
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