08/05/2015, 00.00
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Winter Games, Almaty's disappointment and an online "funeral” for the Chinese mountain

The International Olympic Committee has chosen Beijing for the 2022 Games. Mountaineers complain that skiing will cause irreparable environmental damage. Haituo mountain is a natural barrier against pollution and dust storms affecting Beijing. The competition area is located near a nature reserve. Almaty residents and the Kazakhstan authorities disappointed by defeat of only four votes.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – While the population of Almaty is still mourning the missed opportunity to host the Winter Olympics of 2022, some Chinese mountaineers have organized a funeral online for the mountains near Beijing where the competitions will take place.

According mountaineering enthusiasts the Haituo mountain range (on the border with the province of Hebei) is adjacent to the nature reserve of Songshan, a nation heritage site and vital "ecological barrier" that protects the Chinese capital from sandstorms and pollution. The chain, experts say, will be ruined beyond repair by ski lifts and the biodiversity destroyed.

Controversy continues to shroud the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision to award the Winter Olympics in 2022 to Beijing. Only a few days ago several NGOs linked to the Himalayan region protested against the appointment: they believe that the Committee acted out of solelyeconomic interests, ignoring the dramatic situation of human rights in the country.

A group of hikers have added their voice to protests, concerned about the fate of their favorite peak, peak Xiao Haituo 2,198 meters high. The mountain, along with the peak Da Haituo (respectively "small" and "large" Haituo, in local dialect), is located in Yanqing County, north-west of Beijing, adjacent to the Songshan reserve . The mountain will host one of the ski sites for the Games.

Last year, the IOC was asked to assess the environmental impact on the nature reserve during the planning stages of the project. Hikers found that the photographs presented by Beijing refer just to some locations within the protected area and launched an online petition - now blocked- in which they paid their last respects to the mountain range.

According to the official website, Songshan is "the best ecological system" within the area north-west of the capital of China and has a key role in storing water, as a barrier for the winds and the sand and to stop air pollution. The construction of ski plants will mean uprooting trees, leveling the ground and covering it with artificial snow, changes that will result in permanent damage to the ecosystem.

Alongside the climbers concerns, the Kazakhstan authorities have also expressed deep disappointment at the IOC choice . In the months leading up to the appointment, they had launched a massive promotional campaign that extolled the natural beauty of the territory of Almaty and the presence of a mountain range that is always capped in snow.

Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov had encouraged the delegates gathered in Kuala Lumpur to take a "historic decision". Not even the support of two sports stars, the volleyball player Sabina Altynbekova and Denis Ten, bronze medal in figure skating in Sochi, made any impact.

After the official choice of Beijing, the crowd gathered in the center of Almaty - about 500 people - fell into stony silence, because their candidacy lost by a margin of only four votes (44 to 40). From the beginning, the problem of the authorities of Astana was the competition with a big city like Beijing, compared to "Almaty, which is difficult to locate on the map," said the deputy mayor of the city to the site EurasiaNet.

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