China alters Everest coverage

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BEIJING -- China is altering plans for media coverage of the Olympic flame's ascent of Mount Everest, with officials saying Tuesday that harsh weather is making reporting conditions difficult.

The changes, in effect, mean that foreign reporters would likely spend only 10 days overall in Tibet -- about half the time initially planned.

Officials denied that the changes were connected to protests and riots in Tibet against Chinese rule last month. After the protests, the government allowed a group of foreign reporters to visit the Tibetan capital of Lhasa only to have the carefully scripted trip upended by a protest by monks at an important Buddhist shrine.

"This has nothing to do with the situation in Tibet," Wang Hui, a spokeswoman for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, told foreign reporters. "It's all because of the uncertain weather conditions."

Changes to the three-month-old plan for foreign media coverage include canceling a previously scheduled send-off ceremony at the Everest base camp for the Chinese mountaineering team that will take the flame up the world's tallest peak.

Tuesday's originally scheduled departure of a select group of foreign media invited to cover the ascent was being delayed for at least four days until the mountaineering teams sets out for the summit, said Shao Shiwei, a spokesman for BOCOG.

Even before March's protests erupted in Tibet and Tibetan areas in western China, taking the torch up the 29,035-foot peak was shaping up to be one of the most fantastic and politicized feats in an already politicized Olympics.

Only under International Olympic Committee pressure did Beijing reluctantly agree early this year to allow foreign reporters to cover the Everest ascent, scheduled to take place sometime in May depending on the weather.

Everest is battered by snow and wind and wreathed in thin air, presenting a physical and technical challenge to the torch crews. The government invested significant resources to aid the feat, having a lantern specially crafted to hold the flame, building a road to base camp and having state-run television carry the ascent live.

At the same time, overseas lobbying groups for Tibet's independence have said taking the torch through Tibet was an attempt to lend international and Olympic legitimacy to China's often harsh and much criticized rule over the region.
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