China launches final Olympic torch assault on Everest

EVEREST BASE CAMP, China (Reuters) - Chinese climbers carrying the Olympic flame will make their final attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest on Thursday morning, officials said late on Wednesday.

“The command centre has given its order for the final assault tomorrow,” Shao Shiwei of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) told reporters.

Bad weather over the weekend had denied mountaineers the chance to take the flame to the top of the world’s highest mountain in what China hopes will be the defining moment of the torch relay ahead of the Beijing Games in August.

But calm, sunny weather over the last three days has allowed the climbers to repair damage to their camps and organizers are confident the flame will be burning at the 8,848-metre peak on Thursday, exactly three months before the Games open.

The 12-strong team, chosen from a pool of 31 climbers, will be led by Tibetan Nima Ciren and backed up by a team of seven further mountaineers, Shao said.

“All the climbing torch bearers are in good physical condition,” he added. “We hope they will make a successful final assault.”

Shao said the ascent would be broadcast live on state television from early morning with the climbers expected to light the torch on the 8,848-metre peak after climbing for around five hours.

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The Everest flame is separate from the main Olympic torch that arrived in mainland China on Sunday after a protest-marred international relay which embarrassed officials and sparked a wave of nationalistic fervor at home.

organizers have kept exact plans for the Everest ascent secret for fear that it may also draw protests by pro-Tibet activists. Both Nepal and China have sealed off the area.

Communist-ruled China has invested billions of dollars on staging the Olympics, eager to project the image of a modern and vibrant country.

The heavy snowfall last weekend was a setback for the Everest project and destroyed at least some of the three camps climbers will be using from Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 6,500 meters to the jumping off point for the summit at 8,300 meters.

“I am very happy to say that all the preparation work has been done and the camps been rebuilt,” Shao added.

Anti-Chinese demonstrations disrupted the international stretch of the longest torch relay in Olympic history after the March 14 riots in Tibet’s capital Lhasa sparked off unrest in Tibetan areas of western China.

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(Editing by Keith Weir)

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