KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal has effectively closed Mount Everest to climbers until after May 10 to allow the Olympic flame to be carried to the top without being troubled by Tibetan protesters, a senior minister said on Friday.
The move came as pro-independence protests spread within Tibet. It was made at the urging of China, Pritivi Subba Gurung, the tourism minister, told Reuters. Beijing will host the Olympic Games in Beijing from August 8.
“Climbers will be allowed to go up to the Sagarmatha base camp but will not be permitted to move above until May 10,” Gurung said. Sagarmatha is the Nepali name for the mountain.
“This is to prevent some people who could infiltrate and cause trouble during the time when they take the torch to the top.”
Everest, the word’s highest mountain at 8,850 meters (29,035 feet), straddles the border of the two countries. On Wednesday, China closed the north face of the mountain to allow for the torch ceremony.
Five Americans, including an ethnic Tibetan, unfurled “free Tibet” banners at the base of Everest last year.
Nepal’s decision came days after Nepali police rounded up about 150 Tibetans in Kathmandu during protests to mark the anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against China.
“They have urged us to be careful about the security,” Gurung said of the Chinese authorities.
Hundreds more Tibetans demonstrated in Kathmandu on Friday, carrying candles and Tibetan flags and shouting “Free Tibet” slogans.
The International Campaign for Tibet, a pro-independence group, has criticized Nepal for being heavy handed with Tibetan protesters.
China is an important donor to Nepal. Nepal in return recognizes Tibet as a part of China.
The torch is due to be taken up Everest in early May, depending on weather conditions. Although the closure may thwart the possibility of a dramatic protest, climbers tend to begin their ascent towards the end of the month.
Editing by Jonathan Allen