Friday, May 9, 2008

Beijing Olympic torch on Everest

CHINESE climbers carrying the Olympic flame reached the summit of Mount Everest yesterday, exactly three months before the Beijing Games.

A Tibetan woman, Cering Wangmo, was first to the top with a special extreme-altitude Olympic torch in what China has billed as the high point of its controversial torch relay.

"Beijing welcomes you!" team members said to live TV cameras as they stood at the summit unfurling Olympic banners and celebrating.

Others shouted: "We are on top of the world!", and "One World, One Dream", the official Games slogan.

The team had set out six hours earlier for a final push to the 8848m Himalayan peak, in an event delayed two weeks due to bad weather.

The special torch is different to the one now touring the Chinese mainland, after a global relay dogged by protests over Beijing's handling of unrest in Tibet and its overall human rights record.

China's plan to take the torch up Everest became particularly controversial after the communist Government cracked down on Tibetan protests against Chinese rule of the Himalayan region.

China deployed huge security teams for the flame's ascent. Climbing expeditions from both Everest's Tibetan and Nepalese sides were banned to prevent any disturbances.

China has said it hopes that the Everest leg will promote unity between Tibetans and China.

But exiled Tibetan leaders have said taking the torch through their nation is nothing less than an insult.

"China is clearly attempting to underscore its baseless claims to sovereignty over Tibet," said Matt Whitticase, spokesman for the London-based Free Tibet Campaign.

The main torch's three-month relay through China will culminate in Beijing with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron on August 8 to begin the Games.

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