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Emotions high as Olympic torch scales Everest

Last updated on: May 08, 2008 17:31 IST

The Olympic flame reached the top of Mount Everest on Thursday, an emotional moment for China and the crowning of the Beijing Olympics torch relay that was dogged by anti-Chinese protests on its world tour.

"Long live Tibet!" and "Long live Beijing!", the climbers, all wearing red, shouted joyously into a TV camera after unfurling the Chinese national flag, the Olympic flag and a flag bearing the Beijing Olympic logo.

 Olympic torch relay in Delhi

"Beijing welcomes you!" and "tashi delek", they added -- using a Tibetan greeting meaning "may everything be well" -- after escorting the flame in a mini-relay to the 8,848-metre (29,030-ft) peak at the end of a six-hour climb.

Anti-Chinese protesters caused serious disruption to some legs of the main torch relay on its journey around the world after deadly riots in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, on March 14 and subsequent unrest in other Tibetan areas of China.

Climbers, officials and a small team of journalists had to endure thin air at the high altitude, sub-freezing temperatures and basic sanitation, but enjoyed one of the world's finest views for days before a gap in the weather allowed the final ascent.

Five climbers, two of them women, staged the relay just shy of the peak amid strong winds and minus-30-degree temperatures.

Beijing student Huang Chungui passed the flame to ethnic Tibetan woman Ciren Wangmu, who trudged the final steps unaided by oxygen.

Ciren Wangmu crested the summit at 9:16 a.m., and held the torch aloft, sparking jubilant celebrations.

MAIN RELAY PAUSED

The Everest climbing team, which included 22 Tibetans, eight Han Chinese and one man from the Tujia minority, had been on the mountain for more than a week preparing the route along the north-east ridge.

"All the ethnicities of the Tibet Autonomous Region are very proud," said Wu Yingjie, executive vice chairman of the region. "The Tibetan ethnicity in particular has made great devotions to the big event."

The women among the team included 39-year-old Ji Ji, who trudged the first leg of the mini-torch relay. Ji's husband, Rena, was killed when a rockslide hit his car on the way to climb the 8,080-metre Gasherbrum 1 peak in Pakistan in 2005.

The flame that crested Everest's peak was taken from the main Olympic torch when it arrived in Beijing in March.

Two days of snow at the weekend destroyed some of the roped paths and camps but by Wednesday, the penultimate camp at 7,790 metres was renovated and the climbers braced for the final push.

The official Xinhua news agency jumped the gun on the time the torch was lit, but it was lit several minutes later. China has recorded the summit's height as 8,844.43 metres, four metres shy of the widely accepted height.

The Beijing organisers paused the main torch relay, scheduled to pass through the southern city of Shenzhen on Thursday, while the final push for the summit was taking place.

The Everest flame will be reunited with the main flame later in the relay, possibly when it passes through Lhasa in mid-June.

(Additional reporting by David Gray and Mark Chisholm; and Guo Shipeng, Ian Ransom and Benjamin Kang Lim in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie and John Chalmers)

Image: The Olympic torch is ignited by Luobuzhandui (left)  at 9:12 am local time on Mt. Everest on Thursday in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. Photograph: Ngawang Chagxi/Xinhua/BOCOG via Getty Images

Nick Mulvenney
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