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The BBC's Red Harrison
"Uluru has strong cultural significance for local Aborigines"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Uluru closed in mourning
Two-thirds of the site lie underground
One of Australia's best-known landmarks is to be partly closed for 20 days out of respect for an Aboriginal leader who died at the weekend, officials said.

The move has been criticised by tour operators; hundreds of thousands of people visit Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, every year.

National park officials said tourists could still walk around the base of the towering 863m-high rock, but would not be allowed to climb it during the mourning period.

Uluru/ Ayer's rock
The site showing stunning colour during a rainfall
Aborigines already ask tourists not to climb the huge monolith, which they consider sacred.

Its closure was extended from the weekend to 20 days because of a delay in funeral arrangements for the Aboriginal leader, whose name has not been disclosed for cultural reasons.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Denis Burke said the move had sent "shockwaves" through the tourist industry.

"It's one thing to respect this traditional owner's death, it's quite another thing to look at the shockwaves and the resultant effect this will have," he was quoted as saying on ABC online.

Torch bearer at Uluru
The Olympic torch relay began at Uluru
He said he had been swamped by calls from tour operators and appealed to the prime minister to reach a compromise with park officials.

Uluru sited 450 km (280 miles) from the central desert town of Alice Springs, was chosen as the venue to start the Olympic torch relay before the 2000 games in Sydney.

'Inspiring gentleman'

The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park said the dead man had played a key role in convincing the Australian Government to hand back control of Uluru to local Aborigines in 1985.

"A highly respected elder and role model, this inspiring gentleman tirelessly guided non-Aboriginal staff to respect and learn the ways of Anangu [local indigenous people] and to assist in supporting Tjukurpa [Anangu law]," it said in a statement.

The site's name was changed back to its original Aboriginal name after pressure from the community.

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See also:

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Aboriginals start Sydney countdown
29 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australia slammed over Aborigine rights
02 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
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25 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
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11 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vivid memories of a 'stolen generation'
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