Olympic Torch Still To Go to Everest

Tibetan monks lead a candlelight vigil attended by more than 1,500 people in Dharmsala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile.
Tibetan monks lead a candlelight vigil attended by more than 1,500 people in Dharmsala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile. (By Ashwini Bhatia -- Associated Press)
By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 20, 2008

BEIJING, March 19 -- China's Olympic organizers declared Wednesday that recent anti-Chinese violence in Tibet will not deter plans to relay the Olympic torch through the troubled region, including taking it to the top of Mount Everest.

The relay is scheduled to get underway Monday with a handover ceremony in Ancient Olympia, Greece, the beginning of a 130-day, 85,000-mile journey through foreign countries and China.

The explosion of violence in Tibet last week and a subsequent crackdown by Chinese security forces have threatened the government's plans for a smooth run-up to the Beijing Games in August. But Wednesday, Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, vowed to carry on as planned.

"These disturbances are totally against the spirit of the Olympic Games. They are a challenge to the Olympic Charter. . . . These so-called activities will not win the hearts and minds of the people, and so they are doomed to failure," Jiang said at a news conference announcing plans for the relay.

Attempts to make the Games a platform for political agendas, he said, meet with disapproval by the millions of people who want simply to enjoy the sporting events and pageantry. This holds true, he added, for whatever political goals activists may have in mind: humanitarian concerns in Darfur, Tibetan independence, Muslim nationalism in the neighboring Xinjiang region or human rights for Chinese in general.

In London, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had told him that he was ready to hold talks with the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.

"The premier told me that, subject to two things that the Dalai Lama has already said -- that he does not support the total independence of Tibet and that he renounces violence -- that he would be prepared to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama," Brown told British lawmakers.

The prime minister also said he would meet with the Dalai Lama during his visit to London in May -- an announcement that immediately infuriated Beijing, which urged Britain to understand the Dalai Lama's "true face."

Much to Chinese officials' chagrin, the explosion of violence in Tibet and broad sympathy abroad for the Tibetan people have invigorated activists urging a boycott of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, told reporters Tuesday that he found the idea interesting and would discuss it with fellow ministers from the European Union. He stepped back from that Wednesday, however, telling reporters that a boycott might be "unrealistic," news services reported from Paris.

The Chinese government so far has taken comfort in the refusal of most world leaders to heed pleas from human rights and Darfur activists to use the Olympics to put political pressure on China. President Bush, for instance, has said he regards the Olympics as a sporting event and plans to attend the opening extravaganza.

Other world leaders, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain's Brown, also have announced plans to attend, although Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, refused on grounds of his admiration for the Dalai Lama even before last week's bloody rioting in Lhasa.

Jiang said sentiments such as those expressed by Kouchner come only from "individuals" and will not be picked up by the world's governments. "We are confident other people will make up their own minds and will take the proper decision and will participate in the Olympic Games and the opening ceremony," he added.

"No matter what happens, in Tibet, in Xinjiang or in other places in China, the torch relay will go on," he said. "I have full confidence in the ability of Chinese authorities to ensure security for the torch relay."

Jiang said Olympics organizers have drawn up contingency plans to change the relay route or cancel some segments if conditions warrant it. He mentioned the weather as a factor but left open the possibility that political instability might also affect the route across China.

The most spectacular part of the relay will be an attempt to carry the torch to the top of Mount Everest, the tallest peak in the world. Jiang said the climb would be made during May, but he said the date was not fixed because runners would decide according to last-minute weather conditions. At the same time, observers noted, leaving the date open makes it more difficult for Tibetan sympathizers to plan protests at that symbolic site.

Nepalese officials have said China is asking them to keep climbers off Nepal's southern approaches to the 29,035-foot peak during the first 10 days of May, a popular climbing season. They interpreted the request as a desire by Chinese authorities to use the southern route to avoid protests on the northern approaches in Tibet.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company