The Olympic torch arrived Monday in Oman amid tight security and expectations of a smooth relay of the flame on the Middle Eastern leg of its twenty-nation tour that has been marked by chaos and protests.
Oman officials said the flame arrived at Oman International Airport from Tanzania at 4:30 am and was received by Omani sports minister Ali bin Masoud Al Sunaidy.
Oman has strong economic ties with China, which is a major importer of its oil. It’s also a peaceful country that has seen no modern era demonstrations or protests.
Authorities have promised a trouble-free torch relay with a party-like atmosphere, including musical performances and traditional dances to be held along the planned 20-kilometre relay route throughout the streets of the capital of Muscat and along its scenic water front.
Oman officials said they expect none of the protests that have marred torch relay in other countries, adding that any attempt to disrupt the parade will be severely dealt with.
“Our security is tight ... the Royal Oman Police is ready to handle any such situation,” said Habib Macki, vice chairman of the Oman Olympic Committee, at a press conference this week.
Dozens of Oman police were deployed on the streets by midday Monday, a few hours before the torch lighting ceremony was to kick off in downtown Muscat. Streets along the torch route were closed off and vehicles banned from parking on the roadsides.
Some schools gave students the day off so they could participate in the celebrations.
The Olympic flame, which began its worldwide six-continent trek from ancient Olympia in Greece on March 24, has been the focus of protests over China’s human rights record with major chaos and disruptions during its stops in Paris, London and San Francisco.
However, the relays in Argentina and Tanzania were largely peaceful and without major incidents.
The turmoil over the torch relay and the growing international criticism of China’s policies on Tibet and Darfour have turned the Beijing games - which begin August 8 - into one of the most contentious in recent history.
An adviser to Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Sayyed Shihab bin Tariq Al Said will receive the torch from Sayyed Al Mutassim bin Hamoud Al Busaidy, the minister of state and governor of Muscat.
About 80 torchbearer including Omani athletes and other well-known personalities, are expected to run with the torch along several tourist attractions through old Muscat covering a distance of 20 kilometres (12 miles) before the closing ceremony few hours later.
The torch goes to Islamabad, Pakistan, on Monday night. (AP)
Olympic torch arrives in Oman