Beijing Olympic flame lands in Kazakhstan for torch relay

Kazakhstan Materials 1 April 2008 15:25 (UTC +04:00)

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

Eighty torch bearers, including Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, are to carry the flame along a 20-kilometre route Wednesday through Almaty, the Kazakh capital, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

Almaty has spent 400 million tenge (3.3 million dollars) and deployed 4,500 police officers to guard over the Olympic flame's passage through the city, mayor Imangali Tacmagambetov told Interfax.

The longest torch relay ever, dubbed the "journey of harmony," was set to last 130 days and cover 137,000 kilometres, but there were fears it may encounter protests from human rights activists.

Chinese President Hu Jintao launched the global torch relay in Beijing's Tiananmen Square Monday, shortly after the Olympic flame arrived from Greece, where Tibetan activists disrupted the traditional ceremony to light the flame last week in Olympia.

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.

But protesters, who are angry at China's crushing of unrest in Tibet earlier this month and its plans to take the torch through the country and to the top of Mount Everest, have planned international demonstrations.

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