Leading article: Saving face

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The Independent Online

It sounds like the height of cruelty – to climbers. For ten days, from 1 May onwards, mountaineers will be banned from scaling the face of Mount Everest either from the Chinese side – or, it now appears, from the Nepalese side.

As spring is the peak season for men who are into peaks, the loss of these ten days constitutes a real blow. Aside from the climbers' chagrin, the enforced holiday could also ruin the livelihoods of locals who live off supplying them.

Why the fuss? Because the Olympic caravan draws near, and Beijing's nervous but vainglorious bureaucrats are adamant that no one (think Tibet) must be allowed anywhere near the Chinese team as they transport the Olympic torch to the top of the world's highest mountain in front of the world's cameras.

The Nepalese have merely fallen into line with Beijing's sensitivities in this affair. Whether the hiatus will upset Chomolungma, the goddess who is believed by the Nepalese to dwell at the top of the mountain, is another matter. She may even appreciate a ten-day break from the tramp, tramp of climbers who have been disturbing her solitude since 1953 with growing frequency.

Last year's total of 514 ascents was the highest ever, prompting scientists to wonder about the damage that was being inflicted on Everest's biodiversity.

Ecological concerns are almost certainly the last thing on the Chinese government's mind right now. But if Everest does get a well-deserved rest and returns to silence for a few days, it will only show that a little good can sometimes come even from people inspired by the worst motives.

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