(AP) - Nepalese soldiers and police guarding the slopes of Mount Everest are authorized to shoot to stop any protests during China's Olympic torch run to the summit, an official said Sunday.
Chinese climbers plan to take the torch to the summit of Everest - the world's highest peak on the border between Nepal and Tibet - in the first few days of May. During that time, other climbers will be banned from the mountain's higher elevations.
Police and soldiers "have been given orders to stop any protest on the mountain using whatever means necessary, including use of weapons," Nepal's Home Ministry spokesman Modraj Dotel said, adding that the use of deadly force was authorized only as a last resort.
The troops will first try to persuade protesters to leave and will arrest those who don't. If demonstrators defy all nonviolent means of restraint, troops have the option of using their weapons, such as in cases where a large group cannot be corralled. It was unclear if the protesters would have to attack or become violent before force was authorized.
Twenty-five soldiers and policemen have already established several camps on the mountain, Dotel said, adding that more troops could be sent if needed.
The torch relay - the longest in Olympic history - was meant to highlight China's rising economic and political power. But activists have seized on it as a platform to protest China's human rights record. It has drawn particular ire from those denouncing China's rule in Tibet following a a crackdown on demonstrations in the Himalayan region in March.
Tibetan exiles have protested almost daily in the Nepalese capital of Katmandu in front of the United Nations office and the Chinese Embassy against Beijing's rule over the region.
The United Nations and international rights groups have criticized Nepal for using what they say is excessive force to stop the demonstrations. Police have beaten protesters with batons and dragged them through streets while detaining them.
There are already dozens of mountaineers on Everest for the popular spring climbing season. Climbers spend weeks acclimatizing and making practice runs up the slopes before attempting the 29,035-foot summit.
They will be barred from going above Camp 2 at 21,300 feet until the Chinese finish their torch run. The harsh weather on Everest allows only about two windows - anywhere from a couple of days to a week - in May when conditions are favorable enough for the push to the summit.