Tibetans light freedom torch in Swiss Alps

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The Tibetan Freedom Torch was lit beneath the Matterhorn peak as a symbolic tribute to Mount Everest.

28 April 2008

ZERMATT - A global torch relay organised by Tibetan groups protesting Olympic host China arrived at Europe's most iconic mountain on Friday.

The Tibetan Freedom Torch was lit beneath the 4,478-metre Matterhorn peak as a symbolic tribute to Mount Everest, a holy site for Tibetan Buddhists where the official Olympic torch is due to be carried in early May.

"There is no need to take this torch on to Everest," Tibetan spokesman Wangpo Tethong told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Organisers from more than 150 pro-Tibet groups worldwide want the International Olympic Committee to divert the route of the official torch relay, which has been a focus of violent protests on its five-month journey across six continents from Ancient Olympia in Greece to Beijing for the 8 August opening ceremony.

They want autonomy for Tibet from Beijing and say allowing the Olympic torch on Everest supports China's territorial claims.

"The IOC could send a strong signal to Beijing by not allowing the torch relay through Tibet. It is something small but it would have a big impact and meaning for Tibetans," Tethong said.

However, IOC support for the torch relay was repeated Thursday at a meeting of its Athletes' Commission.

"The Torch Relay, which heralds the Games, and symbolises our values and dreams, has not had the peaceful passage it deserves. We do not want to see it mistreated nor exploited," it said in a statement.

The unofficial Tibetan torch was also lit at Olympia, on 10 March, the day Chinese government forces began cracking down on activists in the Tibet capital Lhasa and western regions of China. The government says 22 people were killed; Tibetan groups claim hundreds died.

Beijing said Friday it is prepared to meet with representatives of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who welcomed the progress toward the talks urged by world political leaders.

The Tibetan relay is spending five days in Switzerland and will arrive Tuesday at IOC headquarters in Lausanne before moving to Copenhagen, Denmark.

[AP / Expatica]

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