Sunday, March 30, 2008

Olympics torch touches down in Beijing amid tight security

The Olympic flame arrived in Beijing for a torch re-lighting ceremony Monday, signaling the start of a round-the-world relay that is expected to be a lightning rod for protests against China's policies and human rights practices.

The flame's arrival in Beijing was shown live on state television, and comes a week after the lighting ceremony for the Olympic torch in Greece was marred by protests. There also were protests Sunday by a pro-Tibetan group when Greek officials handed over the flame to organizers of the Beijing Games in Athens.

Tibetan and rights groups have said they will stage protests along the torch route, which includes stops in London, Paris and San Francisco over the next 10 days.

The relay has especially focused attention on recent unrest in Tibet, the worst in the Chinese-controlled region since 1989.

Dozens of Tibetan exiles burned an effigy of China President Hu Jintao as they reached the Indian capital of New Delhi on Sunday, carrying a symbolic flame which they said was running parallel to the official torch for the Beijing Olympic games.

Beijing's relay was tarnished before it even began when a demonstrator protesting Chinese media curbs grabbed headlines last week by disrupting a Chinese official's opening address at the lighting ceremony in Greece.

That was followed across Greece by a smattering of protests by activists protesting a crackdown on dissent in Tibet and members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China.

On Sunday, some two dozen activists in Athens chanted "Save Tibet!" and unfurled a banner reading "Stop Genocide in Tibet" before police intervened, detaining 21 protesters outside the Panathenian Stadium. Most were later freed.

But their main problem will come in India, the last destination before it goes to Beijing. India has many Tibetian refugees. They reportedly are in talks with celebrities who are going take part in carrying the torch to boycott the relay. They are conspiring to prevent the relay. Chinese diplomats have held several talks with the Home Minister to provide adequate security to the torch.