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China insists torch will go through Tibet

Ignoring demonstrations, China's top official in Tibet says that the Olympics torch will pass through the Himalayan region as planned.
AFP | By Charles Whelan, Beijing
UPDATED ON APR 06, 2008 09:41 AM IST

China's top official in Tibet, rejecting a demand of activists around the world, has insisted that the Beijing Olympics torch relay will pass through the Himalayan region as planned.

Zhang Qingli, the most senior Chinese Communist Party official in Tibet, told local leaders that Beijing was in no mood to listen to the demands of demonstrators calling for the route to be changed.

In a statement on the Tibet government website on Sunday, Zhang said Tibet was determined to play its part in a successful Olympics by hosting the torch relay on June 19 and 20 and overseeing the flame's ascent of Mount Everest in May.

He urged the people to "deepen their drive to complete the glorious, important and arduous task" of having the torch pass through Tibet.

Zhang was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying that officials needed to keep a "clear head" in the struggle against the so-called "Dalai clique," which he said was far from over.

China blames Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama for protests that began in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, on March 10, and then escalated into rioting in the city four days later.

Protests also spread to many other areas of western China with Tibetan populations.

China says Tibetan rioters have killed 20 people. But Tibet's government in exile Saturday raised to more than 150 the number of Tibetans it said were killed in China's crackdown on the demonstrations.

Indicating the protests were continuing, Xinhua reported police fired warning shots at "rioters" in Garze county, Sichuan province, on Thursday after the protesters seriously injured a local official.

But Tibetan activist groups said police fired directly into the protesters, killing at least eight.

The unrest has triggered worldwide protests over the Beijing Olympics, with pro-Tibet activists demanding that the torch relay be diverted from Tibet.

The Olympic torch is scheduled to make an ascent of Everest, the world's highest peak, in May. In June it is to travel through Lhasa.

The relay has already run into trouble after beginning its journey around the world, which concludes with the opening ceremony of the Games in the Chinese capital on August 8.

Protesters disrupted the torch lighting ceremony last month in Greece and have staged demonstrations at various points along the route so far.

Later Sunday the torch was to be carried through London, where more protests were expected. Further demonstrations are planned when the relay travels to Paris on Monday and then on to San Francisco on Wednesday.

Pro-Tibet protesters have been joined by human rights groups which accuse Beijing of cracking down on individual freedoms in the run-up to the Olympics in order to silence critics of the regime.

They cite the jailing of dissidents including AIDS activist Hu Jia, sentenced to three and a half years in prison on Thursday for subversion. His crimes include talking and writing about communist party corruption, freedom and human rights.

Rights group Amnesty International said last week that human rights in China had suffered as a direct result of Beijing being awarded the right to host the Games. China promised to improve human rights in its campaign to win the Games.

Various rights groups have called for heads of state to boycott the August 8 opening ceremony, a proposal that has yet to be ruled out by some leaders, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) head Jacques Rogge has said he believes there is no "real momentum" for a boycott although individual leaders were entitled to make up their own minds.

Rogge said that human rights and other issues would be on the agenda when the IOC's executive board meets in Beijing on Thursday and Friday.

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