Beijing Olympic flame arrives on ancient Acropolis

Beijing Olympic flame arrives on ancient Acropolis

Amidst thousands of security forces, spectators and pro-Tibetan activists, the Beijing Olympic flame arrived on the ancient Acropolis in Athens Saturday, ending the Greek leg of the torch relay before being flown to China. ( dpa )

More than 2,000 uniformed and undercover police have been deployed in the Greek capital to secure the official handover of the Olympic flame to Chinese organizers in a lavish ceremony on Sunday at the Panathinaikon Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.

Thousands of spectators gathered in various parts of the Greek capital to watch as the event as the runners ran through streets decorated with Greek, Chinese and Olympic flags.

The flame will spend the night at the ancient rock after security forces repeatedly changed the route to the Acropolis for fear of further protests.

The flame will then arrive in China on March 31 for the start of a domestic and international relay.

The strict security measures came into place after Tibetan demonstrators and human rights activists disrupted the globally televised torch lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia earlier this week, after unveiling protest banners during the Beijing organizers' speech.

Dozens of other protests, where demonstrators blocked traffic in ancient Olympia and unveiled banners in the northern port city of Thessaloniki and Larissa, marred the Greek leg of the relay as it made its way across 1,528 kilometres over a period of six days.

A small group of Danish protestors dressed in orange gathered outside the headquarters of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, just hours before the flame was due to reach Athens.

At the foot of the Acropolis, a group of pro-Tibet protestors unfurled a banner reading "Free Tibet" while police also briefly clashed with a small group of anti-globalization demonstrators as the torch arrived in Greek capital.

Pro-Tibetan activists said they will hold smaller protests on Saturday and Sunday while Amnesty International has called for a sit-in candle-lit protest on Monday near the Parliament building in central Athens.

Protestors are angry at China's crushing of the unrest in Tibet earlier this month and its plans to take the torch through Tibet and to the top of Mount Everest.

Tibetan activists accuse Beijing of using the site to convey a false message of harmony in the troubled Himalayan region. Chinese troops have occupied Tibet since 1951.

"We are here to celebrate the Olympic spirit and not to enter a political debate," Wang Wei, executive vice-president of the Beijing organizing committee told a press conference.

Meanwhile, Hellenic Olympic Committee president Minos Kyriakou said the protests were from a "super, super minority" and that if some "small minority wants to demonstrate that it is their problem - we are here for the sport."

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.

The torch relay will travel 137,000 kilometres over 130 days through five continents before reaching Beijing's Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony on August 8.

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