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Olympic flame officially in Beijing

Olympic flame officially in Beijing

Posted: Wednesday, August 6, 2008 4:21 pm
By: By HENRY SANDERSON, Associated Press Writer

BEIJING (AP) — The Olympic flame approached the final destination of its long and sometimes contentious global tour today, greeted by rapturous crowds in the Chinese capital two days before it officially launches the Summer Games.
The arrival of the torch marks one of the final steps in China’s seven years of preparations for the games that have cost billions of dollars, and one which Beijing hopes will serve as the country’s symbolic debut as a modern world power.
The torch will tour Beijing before ending up at Friday’s opening ceremony for the games. It will be carried by a diverse group, including China’s first astronaut in space Yang Liwei, movie director Zhang Yimou and basketball superstar Yao Ming.
Ming carried the torch out of China’s symbolic Tiananmen Gate, below the portrait of Chairman Mao.
Overseas, the torch relay was disrupted by protests or conducted under extremely heavy security since it left Greece on March 24, turning an event that should have built up excitement for the games into something of a disaster for the hosts.
The protests have mostly been in response to China’s crackdown in March on anti-government riots in Tibet and to more general concerns over human rights issues in China.
Today, a pro-Tibet group said police detained activists after they unfurled banners outside the Beijing National Stadium, site of the opening ceremony.
Three men and one woman from Students for a Free Tibet climbed two electricity poles in front of the stadium, dubbed the Bird’s Nest, and unfurled the two banners at dawn, said Lhadon Tethong, the New York-based group’s executive director.
One banner said “Tibet will be free” and the other said “One World, One Dream” — the slogan for the Beijing Olympics — with the words “Free Tibet” in Chinese.
The torch arrived back in the capital late Tuesday, after an emotional run in Sichuan province, the site of China’s deadly May 12 earthquake which killed almost 70,000 people.
Security was tight along the torch run and Tiananmen Square was secured by armed police officers.
The only people allowed onto the square were media and special guests.
Organizers have been on heightened alert since an attack in the country’s restive Muslim region in the west killed 16 policemen on Monday.
On Tuesday, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said the committee was discussing whether to eliminate international relays. He said the IOC would retain its tradition of lighting the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia and starting the torch relay in Greece, but may limit flame processions to domestic routes within Olympic host countries.
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Associated Press writer Audra Ang contributed to this report from Beijing.

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