Page last updated at 03:42 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 04:42 UK

Row over climbing at Ayers Rock

By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock (file photo)
Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is a popular tourist draw

A dispute has erupted in Australia over the issue of whether tourists should be banned from climbing Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock.

It is one of the country's biggest tourist attractions.

The national park which runs the site has proposed a ban for cultural and environmental reasons, supported by the local indigenous community.

But the government in the Northern Territory says it is against a ban, which could hurt tourism.

Uluru is Australia's most instantly recognisable landform, a stunning red sandstone rock that rises from the outback.

For Aborigines, it is a sacred site, and the local indigenous community has campaigned for more than two decades to prevent tourists from climbing it.

Aboriginal elders have likened it to scrambling over a Buddhist temple or the dome of St Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Signs at Uluru caution visitors not to climb, in deference to the sensibilities of the traditional owners, and because it is not that safe. Some 30 people have died climbing the rock.

But now the national park is proposing an outright ban.

The Northern Territory government does not support the full closure of the rock, fearing its impact on a local tourism industry that is already in the doldrums.

But it is the federal government which will ultimately decide what has long been a contentious issue.

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