Torch relay kick off in Pakistan amid tight security

Other News Materials 16 April 2008 17:32 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - The Olympic torch relay started in a protest-free atmosphere on Wednesday in Islamabad, with the flame in the hands of Pakistan's former field hockey team captain and Olympian Samiullah Khan.

President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani inaugurated the relay that was being held inside a sports stadium. Sixty-six athletes and celebrities will carry the flame along the 3.5-kilometres-long course.

The great Pakistani squash player and six-time world champion Jehangir Khan will be last torch-bearer.

A crowd of hundreds, many of them Chinese nationals, cheered as the Musharraf and Gillani handed over the torch to Khan.

Pakistan was not expecting the protests that hounded the torch journey in London, Paris and San Francisco, mainly because of the decades-long close friendship and deep cooperation in the fields of defence and commerce between Beijing and Islamabad.

However, tight security arrangements were in place for the relay owing to the security threats that emanate from pro-Taliban militants who have carried out a suicide bombing campaign across the country over the last one year.

Hundreds of military, paramilitary troops and policemen were deployed inside and around the Jinnah Sports Complex. A group of elite commandos will run with the 66 Pakistani athletes selected for the relay.

The torch arrived in Islamabad in the early hours of Wednesday from Muscat.