China is denying mountaineers permission to climb its side of Mount Everest this spring, a move that reflects government concerns that Tibet activists may try to disrupt plans to carry the Olympic torch up the world's tallest peak.
The Everest restrictions were contained in a letter the Communist government's mountaineering association sent this week to expedition companies.
It comes as China's much-criticised rule of Tibet, which has long been an emotive issue, heats up and joins a slew of other issues pressure groups want the authorities to confront in the run-up to August's Beijing Olympics.
Chinese police fired tear gas on Tuesday to clear Buddhist monks protesting for a second day in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, the American-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia reported. In a sign of growing concerns over Olympic security, Beijing announced yesterday that the ruling Communist Party's law-enforcement tsar was named on a three-man committee overseeing Olympic preparations.
Yang Jiechi, the Foreign Minister, also testily chastised critics attempting to use the Olympics to draw attention to human rights violations and other issues. Those who "want to tarnish the image of China", Mr Yang said, "will never get their way". With less than five months to go to the Games – and three weeks until the Olympic flame arrives in Beijing – events are taking on a harder political tone, and the criticism has put the government on the defensive at a time it hoped to be basking in praise.
Tibet was annexed by China 58 years ago, but with its resilient exile community, led by the Dalai Lama, the country has been a concern for Beijing Olympic security planners for months. In the past year, activists have unfurled banners at the Everest base camp and the Great Wall calling for Tibet's independence.
Bringing the Olympic flame to the 29,035ft peak is shaping up to be one of the grandest – and most politicised – feats of the Games. "Beijing is using the Olympics torch ceremony... to bolster its territorial claim over Tibet," said John Ackerly, of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet.
Beijing's vice-mayor, Liu Jingming, said: "The torch relay to Mount Everest is a highlight of the whole relay, and it also represents the idea of green Olympics, hi-tech Olympics and people's Olympics." Organisers have not released an exact date of the ascent, but preparations point to late April or early May.Reuse content