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China Asks Nepal to Ban Mount Everest Hikes, Riots Ensue

China has asked Nepal to keep climbers off Mount Everest this spring, a move that would prevent pro-Tibetan protests when the Olympic torch is carried to the summit of the world's highest mountain, Nepalese officials said Friday.
The organizers of the Beijing Olympics have not released an exact date for the planned ascent, but preparations point to late April or early May. Activists critical of Chinese policy in Tibet have unfurled banners at the Everest base camp in the past.

Nepalese officials said a decision should be reached soon on whether to approve Beijing's request to shut down climbing on Everest until May 10. The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said China made the request last month.

Expeditions from the Chinese side of the peak have already been banned until May 10, with authorities saying they are concerned about "heavy climbing activities and pressure on the environment."

Everest straddles the border of Chinese-controlled Tibet and Nepal, home to many Tibetan exiles and activists. May is considered the best time to climb Everest, but climbers have to be on the mountain weeks before to acclimatize to the harsh weather and high altitude.

Protests led by Buddhist monks against Chinese rule turned violent in Tibet's capital Friday, with shops and vehicles torched and gunshots echoing through the streets of the ancient city.

The protests, which began Monday in a stunning show of defiance by Buddhist monks, cast a shadow over Beijing's efforts to portray China as unified and prosperous in the run-up to the games.

Protesters set shops and police vehicles on fire in central Lhasa, state media and witnesses said. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing warned Americans to stay away, saying it had "received firsthand reports from American citizens in the city who report gunfire and other indications of violence."

Chinese Communist troops occupied Tibet in 1951 and Beijing continues to rule the region with a heavy hand. Beijing enforces strict controls on religious institutions and routinely vilifies the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 amid an aborted uprising against Chinese rule.

This week's demonstrations began on the anniversary of the 1959 uprising, with monks from one monastery demanding the release of monks detained last fall. Political demands soon came to the fore. Other monks and ordinary Tibetans demanded independence and unfurled the Tibetan flag, a capital offense in China.

Demonstrators took encouragement from the Dalai Lama, whose speech Monday to mark the uprising accused China of "unimaginable and gross violations of human rights, denial of religious freedom and thepoliticizationn of religious issues" in Tibet.

The protests have become the largest and most sustained in Lhasa since Beijing crushed a wave of pro-independence demonstrations in 1989.


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