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Nepal to Close Its Side of Everest During China's Olympic Torch Climb


The Nepalese Government has announced it will close its side of Mount Everest during China's Olympic Torch relay to the summit in early May. The news has angered mountain climbers who were set to begin expeditions within weeks. Liam Cochrane reports from Katmandu.

After days of speculation, Nepal's Tourism Minister confirmed that the south side of Mount Everest will be closed between the first and tenth of May, clearing the way for China's Olympic torch relay to the summit.

The highest mountain in the world is located on the border between the countries, and each year mountain climbers pay thousands of dollars to attempt to reach the summit from either side.

The Chinese government secretly asked Nepal to close the southern route last month. The announcement comes as protests escalate at monasteries in Lhasa.

China says it is concerned about overcrowding and environmental damage, but observers say the Chinese government may be afraid of pro-Tibet protests during the high-profile torch relay.

The timing of the announcement, just three weeks before expeditions leave for Everest, has been criticized by mountain climbers.

Pemba Dorje Sherpa holds the speed climbing record for Mount Everest, and says conducting the torch relay from the Chinese side should not interfere with Nepal's climbing season.

Sherpa says it should not matter much to Nepal because China is closing because of the Olympics and that should not really affect Nepal. He says Nepal should not be closing its climbing routes just because of the Chinese reason.

The best opportunity for making it to the 8,848 meter summit occurs in mid-to-late May, but climbers must spend weeks on the mountain before that to acclimatize. In addition, specialist climbing guides were set to leave next week to lay out the ropes and ladders used by their paying clients.

In 2003, Susmita Maskey made it to within 48 meters of the summit and was hoping to reach the top next month, along with nine other young Nepalese women.

The expedition budget was $200,000 and aimed to promote the role of women in mountaineering. Maskey says it now looks uncertain.

"They knew about the Olympics since many years so they should have announced these things long time before, not just three weeks before expedition, the actual expedition," said Maskey. "I think it's going to give a bad impression to people all over the world who love mountains and who were planning to come to mountains in Nepal."

Last year a practice run for the torch relay was disrupted by pro-Tibet activists, who unfurled a flag and made speeches before being detained by Chinese authorities.

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