Olympic torch run begins in India amid heavy security

(dpa) - The Olympic torch relay got underway in New Delhi on Thursday as the Indian capital was turned into a virtual fortress, with Tibetans holding widespread protests and making several attempts to breach security.

The Olympic flame was lit by a senior official of the Olympics organizing committee, after which Suresh Kalmadi, president of the Indian Olympic Association, ran the first leg of the run between India's Presidential Palace and India Gate, the NDTV network reported.

The runners were escorted by commandos from the Delhi Police and the Chinese security teams for the run which had been shortened to 2.6 kilometres from 9 kilometres due to security concerns.

More than 65 torch-bearers, including former Indian Olympic Games participants tennis player Leander Paes and athletes Anju Bobby George and PT Usha as well as participating schoolchildren and special IOA invitees, were allowed at the venue.

Nervous authorities in India had mounted unprecedented security arrangements anticipating that Tibetan activists could stage violent protests and disrupt the relay.

Nearly 15,000 police and paramilitary personnel as well as surveillance helicopters were guarding the torch relay stretch.

Commandos from the elite National Security Guard were on guard to prevent any attempt to disrupt the run in the area, which was virtually sealed with multi-layered security deployed to prevent any Tibetan demonstrations.

All doors and windows of buildings facing the relay route remained closed from 1 pm to 6 pm and office workers were not allowed to enter or leave the area during this period or to be on rooftops.

Police said more than 50 Tibetans were detained in various parts of Delhi, which came under an unprecedented security cover after the Olympic flame landed in the city from Islamabad early on Thursday morning.

Tibetan exiles angry over the Chinese crackdown on the unrest in Tibet held their parallel torch run in Delhi and condemned the Beijing Olympic flame as one of "shame and bloodshed."

Tibetan refugee groups in India have been holding protests leading up to the torch relay and the Beijing Olympics, saying they want to use the occasion to draw international attention to China's human rights violations in Tibet.

The India leg of the torch relay is considered one of the most sensitive, as the country is home to about 100,000 Tibetan refugees, estimated to the largest concentration of Tibetans outside Tibet.

Local media reported that India's ace shooter Jaspal Rana and musician Ayaan Ali Khan had pulled out of the torch relay, citing personal reasons.

Four other Indian personalities, including Indian football captain Baichung Bhutia, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, former police official Kiran Bedi and film star Soha Ali Khan, have already withdrawn from the relay for various reasons.

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