The Olympic flame reached the top of Mount Everest on Thursday, an emotional high for China and the crowning moment of a Beijing Games torch relay that was mired in anti-Chinese protests on its world tour, according to Reuters.
"Long live Tibet!" and "Long live Beijing!", the climbers, all wearing red, shouted joyously into a TV camera after unfurling the Chinese national flag, the Olympic flag and a flag bearing the Beijing Olympic logo.
Rights groups criticized the climb as politically motivated, saying China had used the torch to underline its claim to sovereignty over Tibet.
Anti-Chinese protesters caused serious disruption to some legs of the main torch relay on its journey around the world after deadly riots in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, on March 14 and subsequent unrest in other Tibetan areas of China.
The ambitious project to take the torch to the Himalayan peak was cast as the highlight of the relay ahead of the Games, which starts in exactly three months` time.
"We have realized a promise to the world and a dream of all the Chinese people," base camp commander Li Zhixin told reporters after being mobbed by friends and colleagues.
Communist China has spent billions of dollars on staging the Olympics, eager to project the image of a modern and vibrant country. The protests in cities from Paris to Los Angeles have bruised Chinese pride and provoked a surge of nationalist sentiment.
EMOTIONS RUN HIGH
Five climbers, two of them women, staged the relay just shy of the world`s highest peak amid strong winds and minus-30-degree temperatures.
"Beijing welcomes you!" and "tashi delek", the climbers said -- using a Tibetan greeting meaning "may everything be well" -- after escorting the flame in a mini-relay to the 8,848-metre (29,030-ft) peak at the end of a six-hour climb.
Beijing student Huang Chungui passed the flame to ethnic Tibetan woman Ciren Wangmu, who trudged the final steps unaided by oxygen to hold the torch aloft.
That prompted jubilation among the reserve climbers, officials and a small team of journalists, who had endured thin air at high altitude, sub-freezing temperatures and basic sanitation as they waited for the final ascent.
The tent to which the live pictures were relayed from the summit was rent with cheers and tears and several renditions of the Chinese national anthem echoed out across the Himalayas.
The Everest climbing team, which included 22 Tibetans, eight Han Chinese and one man from the Tujia minority, had been on the mountain for more than a week preparing the route along the north-east ridge.
"The Tibetan ethnicity in particular has made great devotions to the big event," said Wu Yingjie, executive vice chairman of the region.
Overseas pro-Tibet groups condemned China for taking the torch up Everest.
"Beijing`s conquest of Everest is a political move meant to reassert China`s control of Tibet," Tenzin Dorjee, Deputy Director of Students for a Free Tibet, said in an emailed statement.
Tibetan groups said they planned prayer vigils around the world later in the day to mourn those killed in protests in Tibet.
Concerned that protesters would try to disrupt the assault on Everest, which sits astride the border of the Chinese region of Tibet and Nepal, China had effectively closed off the region and released only limited information to the media.
Li said the news blackout had been essential and there had been a "series of interferences" to the mission.
"We apologize to the local and international media, we didn`t have any choice because of the outside interference," he said. "I can tell you there are people still out there trying to interfere with the event. Our climbing torchbearers found their tracks and saw their lights up there on our routes."
The flame that crested Everest`s peak was taken from the main Olympic torch when it arrived in Beijing in March.
The Beijing organizers paused the main torch relay, scheduled to pass through the southern city of Shenzhen on Thursday, while the final push for the summit was taking place.
The Everest flame will be reunited with the main flame later in the relay, possibly when it passes through Lhasa in mid-June.