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China's torch climbers denounce Tibet protests

March 22, 2008

BEIJING, March 21 (Reuters) - Chinese mountaineers chosen to take an
Olympic Games torch to the top of Mount Everest have vowed not to be
deterred by the unrest that has shaken Tibet, state media reported on
Friday.

The torch that will light the flame of the Games will arrive in Beijing
from Greece on March 31.

A separate flame will then go to mountainous Tibet for an attempt to
take it to the top of Everest at 8,848 metres (29,030 ft) above sea
level on a day in May when the weather conditions are best.

Since last week, Tibet and nearby areas have been convulsed by
anti-Chinese protests and riots, with at least 16 dead in the regional
capital Lhasa and four in nearby Sichuan province. Exiled Tibetans say
many more may have been killed.

But mountaineers recruited by China to take the flame to the top of the
world's highest mountain vowed to press on, and -- echoing the Chinese
government -- blamed the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama,
for the recent turmoil.

"We shall go all out to ensure the smooth movement of the torch relay.
We must strengthen ethnic unity while hostile forces try to drive a
wedge between ethnic groups," Yin Xunping, an official with the Tibet
mountaineering effort, told a meeting, according to the Xinhua news agency.

China has repeatedly told critics that it objects to the Games becoming
"politicised" by protests.

But the mountaineers' comments suggest that with Tibet in the
international spotlight, China wants the torch relay to send its own
message of national control and unity and politics will be hard to avoid
as the torch crawls up the icy mountain face.

"The more the Dalai clique tries to sabotage the Games and the torch
relay, the more we should do in terms of the preparation and operation
work," Yin said.

Overseas advocates of Tibetan independence have said they will seek to
protest against the Olympics, and especially against the torch relay
through Tibet.

Degyi Zhoiyar, the head of the Tibet sports administration, "urged all
sport officials in Tibet to be clear-headed and prepared for a struggle
against secessionist activities," Xinhua reported. (Reporting by Chris
Buckley; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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