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Avalanche deaths might be victims of Tibet crisis

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — The climbers killed in a weekend avalanche in the Himalayas were part of a crush of mountaineers who came to the slope because of heightened tensions between Chinese authorities and Tibetans.

China rejected climbing permits for mountaineers hoping to scale peaks in the Tibetan Himalayas, forcing many to crowd onto mountains in Nepal, according to alpine companies.

As a result, about 30 teams were registered to climb Mount Manaslu, a 50 percent increase over last year, said Ang Tshering, who runs the popular Asian Trekking agency in Nepal.

About two dozen climbers were sleeping at a camp high on the mountain early Sunday when the avalanche swept over them. Rescuers have so far brought down the bodies of eight victims — four French, one each from Germany, Italy and Spain, and a Nepali guide.

Tibet is a sensitive area for China, which sometimes limits access for foreign tourists. It has also in the past restricted the number of permits issued to climbers, and even stopped issuing them in 2008 while Chinese climbers took the Olympic torch to the top of Mount Everest before the Beijing Games.

Relations between Tibet and the Chinese government have been volatile this year, as many Tibetans set themselves on fire to bring attention to what they say is their suffering under China’s repressive policies. China claims Tibet has always been Chinese territory, but most Tibetans say the Himalayan region was independent for much of its history.

Chinese officials did not accept applications for climbing permits this year, without giving any reason, said Tshering of Asian Trekking, who is also the representative for the China Tibet Mountaineering Association.

As a result, climbers who were planning to climb Cho Oyu or Shisapangma in the Tibetan region changed their destination to Manaslu, a popular choice because it was not as difficult a climb as other high mountains, Tshering said. It also has a relatively cheap $5,000 permit, compared to $35,000 for Everest during the autumn season.

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