Chinese president launches Olympic torch relay

( dpa )- Chinese President Hu Jintao launched the global torch relay for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Monday, shortly after the Olympic flame arrived by plane from Greece.

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

Lion dancers, acrobats, hundreds of children dressed in flame-theme costumes and other traditional Chinese performers took part in the launch ceremony, most of which was shown live by state television.

Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong said Hu's attendance showed that China's ruling Communist Party was giving "full support" to the Olympic preparations and that Beijing would host a "high quality games with distinctive features."

Hein Verbruggen , head of the International Olympic Committee's coordination commission for the 2008 games, read a message from IOC President Jacques Rogge.

The torch relay would promote "peace and the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect," Rogge's message said.

Before the arrival, China tightened security around the square, and Beijing's Capital International Airport, seemingly fearing more protests after pro-Tibet demonstrators attempted to disrupt the handover ceremony Sunday in Greece.

The Beijing Olympic organizing committee (BOCOG) cited less space because of "security reasons" when it excluded 24 foreign media organizations, including Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa , from the arrival ceremony despite confirmed accreditations for the event.

During the ceremony, all traffic was stopped along Chang'an Avenue, a major road that runs along the north of the square.

The International Olympic Committee, which begins an inspection tour of Beijing on Monday, has come under growing criticism from human-rights groups to pressure China to improve its human rights situation.

The Olympic torch will be carried from Beijing on a domestic and international relay that will pass through 20 countries.

The relay culminates in the lighting of the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony on August 8 in Beijing's National Stadium.

Protestors 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.

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.

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