Olympic torch inches closer to Everest summit

Climbers have returned to an altitude of nearly 8,000 metres on Mount Everest, an official said on Wednesday, and continuing good weather was expected to allow a final push in China's attempt to carry the Olympic flame to the summit of the world's highest peak, reported dpa.

Preparations for the summit attempt were delayed by heavy snow last weekend but Zhang Zhijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Mountaineering Association, said climbers had already restored a camp at 7,790 metres.

"If the weather looks good over the next few days, I think I will bring you good news soon," state media quoted Zhang as telling reporters at a media centre a few kilomtres from the 5,200-metre Everest Base Camp.

The Sohu.com website, which is one of the main sponsors of the summit attempt, ran photographs of Zhang showing sketches of the route up the north face of the 8,848-metre peak via a final camp at 8,300 metres.

The website quoted Zhang as saying he expected unspecified "action" on the peak on Wednesday.

A team of about 30 climbers is taking part in the attempt to display a special high-altitude, wind-proof Olympic torch on the summit of Everest in China's Tibet Autonomous Region.

Most of the experienced professional climbers in the team are ethnically Tibetan.

Exiled Tibetan groups and their supporters accuse China's ruling Communist Party of taking the Olympic torch to Everest to reaffirm its sovereignty over the region.

Widespread protests against Chinese rule began in many Tibetan areas of China in mid-March.

China's alleged crackdown on the protesters, its refusal to hold dialogue with the Dalai Lama, and its torch relay through Tibet were the major targets of protests during many of the international legs of the relay last month.

The government restricted trips by foreign tourists and climbers to Everest before the torch relay.

It also asked Nepalese authorities to suspend climbing on the south side of Everest during the expected May 1-10 window for the summit ascent.

Tourists and climbers embarrassed the Chinese government in two separate incidents close to 5,200-metre Everest Base Camp last year.

Video footage taken in June by Romanian mountaineers showed a Tibetan collapsing onto snow after apparently being shot by a Chinese soldier as a group of Tibetans climbed one of the high passes on China's border with Nepal.

In April 2007, China deported five US citizens who staged a brief protest to support Tibetan independence at Base Camp.

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