Police deployed in Athens ahead of arrival of Olympic torch

(dpa) - More than 2,000 police were deployed in Athens on Saturday to secure the handover of the Beijing Olympic flame to Chinese organizers as pro-Tibetan demonstrators gathered in the Greek capital.

Police are bracing for protests in Athens where the torch relay is due to arrive late Saturday before being flown to China.

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

The Olympic flame is expected to arrive in Athens at about 1600 GMT after having travelled a total of 1,528 kilometres over a period of six days, carried by 645 torchbearers across Greece.

Greek Olympic officials have not released exact details of the Athens route, fearing activists could disrupt the torch relay.

The flame is expected to be carried through the village of Marathon, the starting point of the 42-kilometre race inspired by the an ancient soldier's run to Athens to announce the victory over an invading Persian army, while en route to Athens.

Pro-Tibetan activists said they will hold 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.

The flame will spend the night on the ancient Acropolis and will be handed over to the Chinese on Sunday in front of an estimated 20,000 people in a ceremony held at the Pathanaeikon Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.

Greek and Chinese Olympic officials condemned the protests.

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

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."

On Friday, 10 Danish activists from the TheColourOrange project were stopped by police, approximately 70 kilometres from the city of Larissa, where they had planned to hold a peaceful demonstration near the route of the torch relay.

After being briefly detained, the activists, which wear orange clothing as a symbol of the human rights violations in China, were released and escorted by police away from the city.

Late on Thursday, several pro-Tibetan protestors unfurled banners in a central square of the northern port city of Thessaloniki shortly before the Olympic torch relay arrived in the city.

Police said they briefly detained four Falun Gong members who tried to unfurl a banner in Artistolelous Square.

They also carried banners reading "China is not worthy of the flame."

The tight security measures in Athens come into affect after protests against Chinese rule in Tibet marred the launch of the Games torch relay in Ancient Olympia on Monday.

Three French demonstrators, from the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, who disrupted the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony, were released after a public prosecutor charged them with offending public sentiment without provocation.

The demonstrators had unfurled a banner that depicted the Olympic rings transformed into handcuffs at the ceremony during the speech of Beijing Games chief Liu Qi.

Demonstrators wearing "Free Tibet" shirts also held up the start of the relay by lying in front of cars, preventing runners from passing with the torch.

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.

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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