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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."

Tibetans start torch relay to oppose Beijing Games

March 12, 2008

OLYMPIA, Greece Mar 10 (Reuters) - Tibetan activists staged a
torch-lighting ceremony outside Olympia on Monday for the start of a
global torch relay to protest against decades of Chinese rule over the
Himalayan region.

Olympia, site of the ancient Olympic Games, will host the official
torch-lighting ceremony for the Beijing Olympics on March 24.

"We lit this torch which is of so much importance for us, for a free
Tibet," Tendon Dahortsang of the Tibetan Youth Association in Europe
told Reuters.

The torch was lit outside the gates to the ancient site after the
group of about 10 was barred from entering by police.

Tibetan shot-putter Tsultrim Gope was the first relay runner who took
the lit torch after five women representing goddesses performed a
traditional Tibetan ceremony.

"This is proof of the Chinese state's wide influence," Tendon
Dahortsang said. "Greek authorities told us we were not allowed to go
in because of our big bags, as Chinese embassy officials stood nearby
and watched us."

The so-called Tibetan freedom torch will stop over at 50 cities and
end at the border of Tibet on the day of the start of the Beijing
Olympics, on Aug. 8.

Olympia has hosted the Games' torch-lighting ceremony and relay since
the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

"The police had a massive presence and they even escorted us back to
our hotels but the people of Olympia clapped and cheered us on along
the main street," Tibet Olympic Committee spokesman Kelsang Gope said.

China has controlled Tibet since People's Liberation Army troops
marched in in 1950 and considers it an integral part of its territory.

Critics accuse China of repressing Tibetans' religious aspirations,
especially their veneration for the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual
leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

China says it has spent billions of dollars developing the
impoverished Himalayan region, and raised its living standards.

And it has repeatedly said that it wants to keep politics out of the
August Games.

The International Olympic Committee has been under mounting pressure
as criticism over China's human rights record grows less than six
months before the Games.

The IOC has rejected a Tibetan request to field a team for next year's
Beijing Olympics. The Tibetan team currently comprises some 30
athletes, all exiled.
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