Beijing Olympics flame lit

 

The Beijing Olympics flame was lit in a tightly-guarded ceremony here on Monday at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics.


The ceremony launches the Olympic torch relay that marks the countdown for each Games, and the Beijing Games relay is the longest and most ambitious ever planned, lasting 130 days and covering 137,000 kilometres (85,000 miles) worldwide.

The Beijing Olympics, the first to be held in China, will open on August 8 and run until August 24.

Prior to the lighting of the flame, the ceremony was marred when three unidentified protestors tried to disrupt the speech of China organising committee Chief Liu Qi.

The protesters tried to grab the microphone, and unfurled a banner reading "Boycott the Games in the country that tramples on human rights."

Fear of precisely such a protest against China's treatment of dissidents had brought unprecedented security to the ceremony, with scores of police patrolling the town and the ancient stadium where the ritual takes place.

The three men were believed to be part of the international rights group Reporters Without Borders.

"The Olympic flame will radiate light and happiness, peace and friendship, and hope and dreams to the people of China and the whole world," Qi said in his speech.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Jacques Rogge said that the Beijing Games were an opportunity for China and the world "to learn, discover and respect each other."

Using a polished parabolic mirror, Greek actress Maria Nafpliotou, in the role of an ancient Greek high priestess, coaxed the flame into life using the sun's rays.

A rainy forecast that had forced organisers to schedule the ritual an hour previously did not materialise. (AFP)
 

 

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