BEIJING – The Olympic torch relay route through Tibet and to the top of Mount Everest will not change despite recent violent protests in Lhasa, a Chinese Olympic official said Wednesday.
Anti-government riots last week in the Tibetan capital and a crackdown by communist authorities have led to calls by Tibetan activist groups to stop the relay from going through the region before the games.
"The Tibet leg of the torch relay will proceed as scheduled," said Jiang Xiaoyu, the executive vice president of the Beijing organizing committee.
"We firmly believe that the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region will be able ensure the stability of Lhasa and Tibet and also be able to ensure the smooth going of the torch relay in Tibet," Jiang said at a news conference.
He said the ascent to the top of the world's tallest mountain would be the highlight of the torch relay and "a great feat in Olympic history."
Last week's riots, which the government says killed 16, have cast a larger spotlight on China's human rights record, although there have been no calls by governments or international sports officials for a boycott of the Olympics.
Even before the violence, taking the torch to the top of Everest was shaping up to be one of the grandest and most politicized feats of an already politicized Olympics. The relay directly touches on one of China's most sensitive issues: its often harsh 57-year-rule over Tibet.
Beijing says that Tibet is historically part of China, but many Tibetans argue the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries and accuse China of trying to crush Tibetan culture by swamping it with Han people, the majority Chinese ethnic group.
Tibetan activist groups have criticized the Olympic torch run as an attempt by Beijing to add legitimacy to Chinese control of Tibet.
Jiang said climbers would take the Olympic flame to Everest's 29,035-foot summit on a day with favorable weather conditions in May.
He said local police and governments would provide security along the relay route.
China has already begun denying mountaineers permission to climb its side of Mount Everest this spring, a move that reflects government concerns that activists may try to disrupt its torch plans. Everest straddles China's border with Nepal, and Nepal recently agreed to ban climbers from its side of the mountain during the torch run.
Activists have in the past unfurled banners at the Everest base camp and the Great Wall of China calling for Tibet's independence.
Last year, organizers for the Beijing Summer Olympics announced ambitious plans for the longest torch relay in Olympic history — an 85,000-mile, 130-day route that would cross five continents and reach Everest's summit.