| EVEREST BASE CAMP, China
EVEREST BASE CAMP, China The Beijing Olympic torch will not reach the summit of Mount Everest for at least four days because of high winds on the world's highest peak, organizers said on Wednesday.
Organizers have not disclosed details of when the climbers and the torch will set off from Base Camp, if they have not done so already, but strong winds mean an attempt to take the flame to the summit will not take place before the weekend.
"It would be very difficult to take the flame to the peak of the summit today," Yan Xingguo, director of the meteorological centre, told reporters on their first visit to base camp proper.
"It's certainly not going to be possible in the next three days because the wind speed is above 30 meters per second. According to our experience, we can scale the summit when the wind speed is 20 meters per second."
After huge disruption to the international leg of the torch relay by anti-China protests over Tibet and other issues, organizers are taking no chances of any demonstrations for this high-profile splinter leg.
On their way up to base camp, the media passed through a checkpoint and then a large border police encampment outside which stood more than 20 uniformed men armed with AK-47 assault rifles.
"OUT OF BOUNDS"
Security is also behind the secrecy surrounding the departure date of the climbing team, and large areas of base camp were ruled "out of bounds" to the media on Wednesday and cordoned off by police tape.
One man who has been working at base camp for 10 days, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the climbers and flame left on Tuesday. But officials dismissed a similar report on a Chinese website as "fake".
"I believe this report is irresponsible and misleading," said Shi Shiwei of the Beijing Olympic Committee's media department.
Climbers usually take two days to climb from base camp to advanced base camp (ABC) at around 6,500 meters (21,300 feet).
From there, the journey to the summit at 8,848 meters (29,030 feet) takes four days, although some experts believe that the way has been prepared so well and the climbers so well-trained that the last push might be done in 48 hours.
Reporters were also shown the lantern that will take the flame up the mountain and the torch which will be lit once the climbers have summited.
It is slightly heavier than the torch used for the rest of the relay, uses a specially developed solid fuel and was tested up the mountain, known as Qomolangma in Tibetan, last year.
"We have the greatest confidence that we will scale Mount Qomolangma," said Wenqing Shao of the design team. "It will happen in the next few days, the sacred Olympic flame will go to new heights."
There were no celebrations on the mountain to mark the start of the 100-day countdown to the opening ceremony of the August 8-24 Beijing Olympic games.
"This is a critical time in this project," said Sun Bin, project manager for the Qomolangma torch operations team at the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG). "We are concentrating very hard on our work."
(Take a look at the Countdown to Beijing blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)