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Media coverage of Everest torch departure cancelled

April 23, 2008

BEIJING, April 22 (Reuters) - China has cancelled media access to the
departure of the Beijing Olympic torch from Everest North Base Camp
before an attempt is made to take it to the top of the world's highest
mountain early next month.

Non-Chinese media approved to report on the attempt to take the torch up
Everest were told on Tuesday, the day of their scheduled departure, that
the trip had been postponed and partly cancelled.

The Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) said
unsuitable weather in the Himalayan region of Tibet had forced them to
put the trip back until Saturday at the earliest.

Officials also said the media would no longer be at North Base Camp when
the climbing party left with the torch for the summit.

"It has been cancelled for both Chinese and international media," Shao
Shiwei, deputy director of BOCOG media department, told a briefing.

Instead, the media will leave Beijing at the same time as the torch
leaves Base Camp and go straight to Everest via the Tibetan capital
Lhasa on a journey that would take them from 54 metres (177 ft) to 5,360
m (17,600 ft) above sea level in three days.

BOCOG spokeswoman Wang Hui denied the the change in plans had anything
to do with the recent unrest in Tibetan areas, which started with deadly
riots in Lhasa on March 14.

"This is not the case," she told a media briefing. "This is not about
Tibet ... we have tried our best to make the best arrangements for you,
this is all because of the uncertain weather conditions.

Shao said the changes had been made to avoid media having to spend long
periods at Base Camp before the attempt on the summit of Everest.
Reminded that medical advice warned against going too quickly from low
to high altitude, Wang said it was "not possible" for the media to
acclimatise for a few days in Lhasa.

"When we get the message from the field command centre we have to leave
immediately," Shao added. "We would not be able to do that if you were
scattered all over Lhasa."

Opponents of Chinese rule and policies in Tibet have targeted the
Olympic relay around the world, but the Paris protests caused most anger
in China after images showed a Chinese wheelchair athlete, Jin Jing,
having to shield the flame from protesters.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney and Nick Macfie)

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