Athenians line streets for Beijing Olympic flame handover

(dpa) - Athenians began lining the streets of the Greek capital on Sunday to witness the Olympic torch leave the ancient Acropolis and make its way to organisers of the Beijing Games.

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.

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 at the Panathinaikon Stadium at 1200 GMT, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.

At Sunday's ceremony, Minos Kyriakou, president of the Hellenic Olympic Committe, will deliver the flame to Olympic Beijing chief Liu Qi.

The government has imposed tight security measures across the city following various protests Saturday by pro-Tibet and anti-globalisation organisations which oppose China's human right abuse.

The flame will then arrive in China on March 31 for the start of a domestic and international relay that will pass through 20 countries. The orch relay culminates in the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron in beijing's National Stadium at the Opening Ceremony on August 8.

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.

Pro-Tibetan activists said they will hold smaller protests on 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.

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.

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