Olympic flame leaves Beijing for torch relay in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan Materials 1 April 2008 10:24 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - The Olympic flame left China by plane for Kazakhstan Tuesday for the first leg of the international torch relay in the run-up to the Beijing Summer Games.

Eighty torch bearers are to carry the flame along a 20-kilometre route Wednesday through Almaty, the Kazakh capital, China's official Xinhua news agency said.

Chinese President Hu Jintao launched the global torch relay in Beijing's Tiananmen Square Monday, shortly after the Olympic flame arrived by plane from Greece.

Hu lit the Olympic flame in a large cauldron in the square before handing his torch to Liu Xiang, the 110-metre hurdles world champion and world record holder, to begin the relay.

After Almaty, the flame was scheduled to be flown to Istanbul, St Petersburg, London, Paris, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Dar es Salaam, Muscat, Islamabad, Mumbai, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Canberra, Nagano, Seoul, Pyongyang, Ho Chi Minh City, Taipei, Hong Kong and Macao.

After the intercontinental events, the torch relay is to visit dozens of mainland Chinese cities and every province.

The relay is to culminate in the lighting of the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony on August 8 in Beijing's National Stadium, kicking off the two-week Games.

Tibetan activists disrupted the traditional ceremony to light the flame last week in Olympia, Greece, and were expected to stage protests during several legs of the international torch relay.

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

The activists accused Beijing of conveying a false message of harmony in the troubled Himalayan region, which Chinese troops have occupied since 1951.

The Olympic torch is to be carried for about 4,300 kilometres, or 3 per cent of its record 137,000-kilometre global relay.

Nearly 21,000 ordinary people, athletes, officials and celebrities are to carry the torch for about 500 kilometres on the international legs and 3,800 kilometres within China.

Most of the 97,000 kilometres outside mainland China and the 40,000 kilometres inside the country would be travelled by air, according to statistics provided by organizers.