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China begins countdown to manned space flight

Beijing, Oct. 14 (Reuters): China began the final countdown today in its bid to become just the third nation to rocket a man into orbit, with clear skies forecast over the Gobi desert launchpad where liftoff was due to come as soon as tomorrow.

But with the pride of a rising nation pinned to the mission, it was unclear whether China would risk allowing its 1.3 billion people to witness the launch live. Newspapers said state television scuttled plans for live broadcast and station officials gave conflicting accounts of plans.

Yesterday, mission control successfully simulated the launch of the Shenzhou V, or “Divine Ship”, and was fuelling the spacecraft, the Lanzhou Morning Post, based in the province of Gansu, reported from the launch base in nearby Inner Mongolia.

President Hu Jintao was to fly there to watch Communist China’s bid to realise its decades-old space dreams, Hong Kong media said. Hu and other leaders have been closeted in Beijing grappling with more earthly concerns, such as a harrowing rich-poor gap, at a Party Central Committee plenum.

Hu was expected meet the astronaut chosen for the solo flight, whose identity has yet to be confirmed.

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