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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 April 2007, 18:29 GMT 19:29 UK
Everest climb for Olympic torch
Chinese dancers with Olympic rings on their faces (file photo)
China wants the games to be its showcase to the world
The Olympic torch will reach the top of Mount Everest en route to the Beijing games, officials have confirmed.

The flame will be carried through 20 cities in five continents on its journey from Olympia in Greece.

But self-ruling Taiwan, seen by China as part of its territory, has rejected its inclusion on the route, seeing it as an attempt to downgrade its status.

And the inclusion of Tibet, ruled by China since it invaded in 1950, is likely to provoke protests abroad.

Officials also unveiled the new Olympic torch, a red and silver design shaped like a Chinese scroll.

The 72cm (28-inch) high torch is designed to withstand wind and rain, and is also eco-friendly, officials said.

The torch will arrive in Beijing in time for the Olympics opening ceremony on 8 August next year.

Taiwan objection

At a ceremony in Beijing, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said the torch relay would "be a journey of harmony, friendship and respect to people of different nationalities races and creeds".

Liu Qi, head of Beijing's Olympic organising committee, said the route would "cover the longest distance and be the most inclusive" in Olympic history.

The new Olympic torch, whose design represents an ancient Chinese scroll

But officials in Taiwan were not happy that the planned route would have seen the torch visit Taipei followed by stops in Hong Kong and Macau.

"This route is a domestic route that constitutes an attempt to downgrade our sovereignty," said Tsai Chen-wei, the chairman of Taiwan's Olympic Committee.

"It is something that the government and people cannot accept."

While many in Taiwan are said to be keen for the torch to come, some fear that if the route directly links the island with China it would appear to endorse Beijing's view that Taiwan is part of its territory.

Everest protest

The highlight of the 137,000km (85,000-mile) journey is expected to be the torch's planned ascent in May of the world's highest mountain, Everest, which straddles the border between Tibet and Nepal.

But its path through Tibet may trigger protests from critics of Beijing's rule. China invaded Tibet in 1950 and its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, lives in exile in India.

Four US activists were arrested on Everest on Wednesday after unfurling a banner calling for Tibet's independence as Chinese climbers were carrying out relay assessments.

They were still believed to be in detention on Thursday. China said it was investigating the incident and warned foreign citizens against engaging in "activities concerning the sovereignty and unity of China".

The flame will be lit on 25 March in Greece at the site of the ancient Olympics.

It will then be carried by a series of athletes, celebrities and specially-chosen members of the public to Beijing.

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