Protest mars Olympic flame ceremony - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Protest mars Olympic flame ceremony

25/03/2008 12:01:47 AM Comments (0)

The Beijing 2008 Olympic torch was lit by the sun's rays in ancient Olympia on Monday, amid protests by pro-Tibet demonstrators who tried to disrupt the event.

Despite an overcast sky at the ancient archaeological site, a high priestess, played by Greek actress Maria Nafpliotou, lit the torch from the sun's rays using a convex mirror in front of the Temple of Hera.

Greek athlete Alexandros Nikolaidis, an Athens 2004 Games taekwondo silver medalist, was the first torchbearer, starting a six- day relay throughout Greece and five-month international relay that will end with the opening of the summer Games on August 8.

Prior to the flame lighting ceremony, two pro-Tibet demonstrators ran onto the field of the stadium at Ancient Olympia carrying black flags and banners during the speech of the President of the Beijing Olympic Committee Liu Qi. The men were quickly detained by police.

Hundreds of police were stationed at the ancient site in the western Peloponnese to guard the site after campaigners lit their own "Freedom Torch" a few weeks ago in Olympia to campaign for a free Tibet.

Apparently unperturbed by the demonstrators, Liu said: "The Olympic flame will radiate light and happiness, peace and friendship, and hope and dreams to the people of China and the whole world."

The flame will be handed over to Chinese Olympic officials on March 30 at the Kalimarmaro Stadium, the home of the first modern Olympics, in Athens.

The torch relay will travel 137,000 kilometres over 130 days through five continents before reaching Beijing's Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony.

China's plans to take the torch through Tibet and to the top of Mount Everest has upset Tibetan activist groups, which accuse Beijing of using the site to convey as false message of harmony in the troubled Himalayan region.

The Chinese troops have occupied Tibet since 1951.

The Olympics, held every four years, were the most widely attended sporting event in ancient Greece and symbolised a truce between warring cities. They first began in 776 BC and were abolished in 394 AD by the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius.

"I express the hope that the symbol of the torch will be recognised by everybody and that the right circumstances can be created, wherever the torch travels, for it to resonate," International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said in a speech inside the ancient stadium.

As the Beijing games approach, the International Olympic Committee has come under growing criticism from human rights groups in order to pressure China to improve its human rights situation.

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