- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

1:10 p.m.

BEIJING — Organizers for the 2008 Beijing Olympics today announced what will be the longest torch relay in the history of the games, tracing a route that covers five continents and makes politically sensitive stops in Taiwan and Tibet.

The head of Taiwan’s Olympic Committee, however, said it would not participate in the relay, because it “downgraded” Taiwan’s sovereignty.

At a Beijing ceremony attended by senior members of China’s ruling Communist Party and the International Olympic Committee, organizers said the route would cover 85,000 miles, last 130 days and reach Mount Everest.

“It will be a relay that will cover the longest distance and be most inclusive and involve the most people in Olympic history,” said Liu Qi, the head of Beijing’s Olympic organizing committee.

The relay is the latest grand plan associated with an Olympics that organizers and IOC officials have said should set a new standard for the games. But it also takes the games into politically tricky terrain.

Stops in Taiwan and Tibet, where Mount Everest towers, have generated controversy ever since Beijing telegraphed its intentions to include them on the route years ago. Taiwan has resisted Beijing’s overtures — and sometimes threats — to unify after splitting amid civil war while China’s often harsh 57-year rule over Tibet has been widely criticized.

Four American activists were detained by Chinese authorities yesterday on Mount Everest after they unfurled a banner calling for Tibet’s independence.

Beijing is hoping that the torch relay will bolster its claims over both territories.

In a compromise, however, it proposed that the torch will pass from Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City to Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, and then to Chinese-controlled Hong Kong. The route allows Taiwan to say it is part of the international leg, while allowing China to blur the distinction between the domestic and international parts.

But Tsai Chen-wei, chairman of Taiwan’s Olympic Committee, said less than two hours after the Beijing meeting that the island would not participate in the torch relay.

“This route is a domestic route that constitutes an attempt to downgrade our sovereignty,” Mr. Tsai said. “It is something that the government and people cannot accept.”

Mr. Tsai’s comments contradicted an April 13 statement by another Taiwanese Olympic official, who said the island could accept a spot on the torch route that involved geographical contiguity with Hong Kong.

Other stops announced today include Paris; San Francisco; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Islamabad, Pakistan; and Pyongyang, the capital of politically isolated and belligerent North Korea.

The relay’s signature moment is expected to be its ascent to the summit of Mount Everest, which straddles Chinese-ruled Tibet and Nepal.

In the design of the torch, China looked to its ancient past and dynamic present, choosing a design that resembles a traditional Chinese scroll and was conceived by its leading computer maker.

The 28-inch-tall red-and-silver tube-shaped torch was created by Lenovo Group Ltd. and picked by Beijing Olympic organizers from among more than 300 competing designs.

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