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Torch still going to Tibet, organisers say

March 16, 2008

By Nick Mulvenney

BEIJING Sat 15 Mar 2008 (Reuters) - Current unrest in Tibet will not
affect plans to take the Olympic torch in a few weeks time through the
remote mountainous region on its way to Beijing, a spokesman for the
Games organisers said on Saturday.

Asked whether he thought the unrest would affect the torch relay, Sun
Weide, spokesman for the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic
Games (BOCOG) said: "I don't think so, no.

"The preparations for the torch relay in Tibet and taking the flame up
Mount Qomolangma have been progressing smoothly," he added, referring to
the Chinese name for Mount Everest.

"I think the authorities in Tibet are dealing with the situation and it
is now stable," Sun said, when asked if he thought the unrest might lead
to calls for a boycott of the Games.

"Hosting the Olympic Games is a century-old dream for the Chinese
people," he added. "The whole Chinese people, including our compatriots
in Tibet, are very much looking forward to the Beijing Olympic Games."

China has been buffeted ahead of the Games by worries over dirty air and
international protests over human rights, Tibet, Sudan's Darfur and
other controversies that often irk Chinese diplomats.

Hollywood actor and Tibetan activist Richard Gere said on Friday that
China should suffer a boycott of the Beijing Olympics if it mishandles
protests in Tibet, where authorities have admitted 10 people have burnt
to death in riots.

Earlier this week Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told critics to back off,
accusing them of violating the Olympic Games charter keeping politics
away from sports.

Asked whether human rights issues changed Washington's view of China
hosting the Olympic, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said
the United States saw the Games as a sporting event.

"We believe, and have urged China both in public and in private to use
the opportunity to put China's best face forward to the international
community, not only during but in the run-up and after the Olympics,"
McCormack said on Friday.

CRITICS VOW TORCH PROTESTS

China has ruled the Himalayan region with an iron fist since its troops
marched in 1950.

The government says it has poured billions of dollars into developing
Tibet and that the living standards of Tibetans have improved markedly
under the Communist Party's leadership.

But exiles and rights groups condemn Beijing for suppressing the
religion, culture and language of the Tibetans, and have accused China
of widespread human rights abuses.

Tibet activists have already said they plan to dog the Olympic torch
relay around the globe with protests, along with other groups such as
those which blame China for not exerting enough pressure on Sudan to
bring peace to Darfur.

The torch relay for the Beijing Olympics, which starts when it is lit in
Ancient Olympia, Greece, on March 24, will 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 from it 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 also forms part of the domestic leg of the relay, taking in
Shannan Diqu on June 19 and Lhasa on the following two days.

(Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
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