An American mountain climber with a "Free Tibet" banner was forced to turn back from Mount Everest, which Chinese climbers carrying the Olympic torch plan to summit next month, officials said Wednesday.
The climber was caught with the banner in his bags at Everest's base camp, said officials at the Tourism Ministry in Nepal's capital, Katmandu. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to reporters.
Katmandu-based Himalayan Guides Treks and Expeditions, which got the permit for the climber, identified him as William Brant Holland but was not able to give details on his age or hometown.
The government has issued a notice to the agency seeking clarification on the incident, said Umid Bhandari, an employee with the expedition company.
It was not clear what the government would do about Holland's case once he returned to Katmandu. Officials said he would probably be banned from mountaineering in Nepal for the next few years.
Pressure from China
Holland is the first mountaineer to be stopped by soldiers and policemen stationed on the Nepalese side of the world's highest mountain to prevent anti-China protests during the planned torch run to the summit.
The climb will take place on the Chinese side of the mountain. But the Nepalese government, complying with pressure from the Chinese government, has posted soldiers on the southern side and banned climbing near the summit between May 1-10 as a precaution.
Police and soldiers have been ordered to stop any protest on the mountain using whatever means necessary, including use of weapons, although the use of deadly force is authorized only as a last resort.
Contentious torch relay
The torch relay — the longest in Olympic history — was meant to highlight China's rising economic and political power. But activists have seized on it as a platform to protest China's human rights record. It has drawn particular ire from those denouncing China's rule in Tibet following a a crackdown on demonstrations in the Himalayan region in March.
There are already dozens of mountaineers on Everest for the popular spring climbing season. Climbers spend weeks acclimatizing and making practice runs up the slopes before attempting the 29,035-foot summit.
They will be barred from going above Camp 2 at 21,300 feet until the Chinese finish their torch run. The harsh weather on Everest allows only about two windows — anywhere from a couple of days to a week — in May when conditions are favorable enough for the push to the summit.