Olympic torch set for trouble-free run in Oman

Other News Materials 14 April 2008 09:58 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - The Olympic torch is expected to get a rare protest-free outing Monday in a parade through the capital of the Sultanate of Oman on the Middle Eastern leg of its journey to Beijing.

The flame landed in Muscat around 05:30 am (0130 GMT), from Tanzania and was spirited away under tight security, the Oman Olympic Committee (OOC) said.

The parade has been scheduled for the evening, in an apparent bid to avoid daytime temperatures expected to reach 40 Celsius ( 104 Fahrenheit).

Some 80 athletes including Omani football players will relay the flame in a 20-kilometer (12-mile) run along a route which takes in several historical sites in the coastal city.

Muscat, where demonstrations are rare, is expected to be a quiet stop for the torch relay dogged by human rights protests in almost every city where it has appeared so far.

Oman, on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, has been ruled for centuries by the Al-Busaid dynasty, which does not allow political parties.

The country enjoys good relations with China which is a major destination for Oman's oil exports, while Chinese companies are involved in several local projects, including the construction of a 130 million dollar highway.

OOC vice chairman Habib Macki said a "chief guest" will light the torch in the evening before it is paraded through the city. Each torch-bearer will run for a distance of 200 metres (yards).

Folk dancing and fireworks will accompany the flame's progress along its route through the capital, Macki said, without making any reference to security arrangements.

But a member of an OOC special committee set up to oversee the torch relay, Hisham al-Sinani, told AFP that police will be out in force to protect the torch and its bearers.

In the streets of Muscat, there was hardly any sign of special security arrangements ahead of the arrival of the flame.

China's hopes of winning international prestige by sending the Olympic torch through 135 cities on five continents ahead of the August 8 opening of the Olympic Games have already been damaged.

The early stages in London and Paris were overshadowed by demonstrations against Beijing's repression of protests in Tibet, and the third stage in San Francisco was also drastically curtailed and seen by relatively few people.

However, the most recent relays in Buenos Aires and Dar es Salaam passed off with little incident.

The torch leaves Muscat early Tuesday for Pakistan's capital Islamabad.