Storms ahead for Olympics torch

Final preparations have been taking place in Greece for the lighting of the Olympic flame for the Beijing games. ( BBC )

Cloudy skies meant the flame could not be lit in the traditional way - using the Sun's rays - at the final dress rehearsal on Sunday.

If the weather fails to play its part in the ceremony on Monday, a back-up flame will be used to light the torch that will be carried to China.

Activists say the ceremony will trigger protests over Tibet and other issues.

Security has been stepped up at the birthplace of the games in Greece to prevent demonstrations over China's reaction to protests in Tibet.

The Tibetan government-in-exile - headed by the Dalai Lama, regarded by many Tibetans as their spiritual leader - says at least 99 people have died in the crackdown by Chinese troops. China says 19 people have been killed by rioters in Lhasa, the main city.

The Dalai Lama supports the games, saying they will make a billion Chinese people proud. The Chinese authorities have accused him of trying to ruin the Olympics.

But the Taiwanese president-elect, Ma Ying-jeou, has said Taiwan might boycott the games "if the Chinese authorities continue to suppress the Tibetan people and the situation in Tibet continues to worsen".

International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge believes the games could be a changing factor in China.

"We believe that China will change by opening the country to the scrutiny of the world through the 25,000 media who will attend the games," he said in a statement.

"Awarding the Olympic Games to the most populous country in the world will open up one fifth of mankind to Olympism."

With storms forecast for Greece on Monday, organisers at ancient Olympia have taken the unusual step of putting the flame-lighting ceremony back an hour to avoid the rain.

The ceremony beside the Temple of Hera involves actresses dressed as high priestesses and the torch being held inside a parabolic mirror and ignited by the sun's rays.

Clouds spoiled the ceremony for the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the last three Winter Olympics.

The torch will be carried through 20 countries, including Tibet, ahead of the start of the Beijing games on 8 August.

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