BEIJING (AFP) — Chinese and Tibetan climbers bearing an Olympic torch reached Mount Everest's summit on Thursday, state television showed, in an historic moment for China exactly three months ahead of the Beijing Games.
Tibetan female climber Cering Wangmo reached the top of the world's highest mountain bearing a special extreme-altitude torch, triggering celebrations in China but further criticism from Tibetan activists.
"Beijing welcomes you!" joyous team members said as they stood at the 8,848-metre (29,028-foot) summit, with the event broadcast live on national television.
Other members of the 19-person summit team shouted: "We are on top of the world!", and "One World, One Dream!", the official slogan of the Beijing Olympics.
The torch was lit just shy of the summit, with five climbers then relaying it the final metres to the top of Everest .
The team had set out six hours earlier for a final summit push in an event that had been delayed for about two weeks due to adverse weather.
The event was the most ambitious part of what has become the longest and most controversial Olympic torch relay in history .
Since the torch was ignited in Olympia, Greece, on March 24, its global journey has been dogged by protests over China's rule of Tibet, its human rights record and support of Sudan's pariah government.
The Everest plan became particularly controversial after China cracked down on unrest in Tibet that began in March with demonstrations against Chinese rule of the Himalayan region.
Tibet's government-in-exile says more than 200 people have been killed in the crackdown. China denies this, instead blaming Tibetan "rioters" and "insurgents" for killing 21 people.
China threw on huge security for the flame's ascent while climbing expeditions from both Everest's Tibetan and Nepalese sides were suspended to prevent any disturbances.
China has said it hopes the Everest leg of the relay will promote unity between Tibetans and the majority Han population of China.
But exiled Tibetan leaders and activist groups have called it a provocation that contradicts China's own admonition, voiced amid the overseas relay protests, not to politicise the Games.
"China is clearly attempting to underscore its baseless claims to sovereignty over Tibet. This is a clear politicisation of the Games by the host country itself," Matt Whitticase, spokesman for the London-based Free Tibet Campaign, said of the Everest ascent.
"The ongoing crackdowns and militarisation of the region on the eve of the Games are a powerful reminder of the grave mistake made by the IOC in giving the Olympics to China."
The special Everest torch is not the one that arrived on the Chinese mainland at the weekend after its month-long trip across five continents.
The main torch's three-month relay throughout China will culminate in Beijing with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron on August 8 to begin the Games.
All told, it will have travelled 137,000 kilometres (85,000 miles) around the globe over 130 days, according to China, the longest Olympic torch relay in history.
It was in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Thursday, where the relay was delayed by a few hours so the focus would be solely on Everest.
The official relay could face further controversy next month when it travels through Tibet and the neighbouring Xinjiang region, whose Muslim population have also expressed resentment against what they say is repressive Chinese rule.
Besides the ongoing crackdown in Tibet, exiled leaders from Xinjiang say Chinese security forces are carrying out a massive crackdown there to head off any torch protests.
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