Olympic torch touches down on Australian soil

The Olympic torch arrived Wednesday amid tight security to a red carpet welcome at the Royal Australian Air Force base in Canberra, as the capital braced for Thursday's beleaguered torch relay. ( dpa )

The flame arrived aboard a China Airlines A330 Airbus after a six- hour flight from Jakarta at 7:50 am.

It was greeted by Aboriginal community leaders, Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, Australian Federal Sports Minister Kate Ellis, Olympic organizing committee officials and Australian Olympic officials.

Before the official handover ceremony, the flame was accorded a traditional Aboriginal welcome.

Bunja Smith of the Walbanga people told reporters, "We welcome the Olympic torch and the Chinese delegation in a spirit of peace."

Indigenous elder Agnes Shea of the Ngunnawal people presented a traditional message stick to the Chinese officials.

Shea told the 50-some reporters covering the event, "The words contained within our message stick today are about welcoming our visitors to our country and of the great peace and good fortune for the Beijing Olympic torch relay. We want the story of the torch while it is in Canberra to be one of peace and understanding."

A strong Australian police contingent will guard the barricaded, 16-kilometre relay route Thursday as the torch is carried past national landmarks including Parliament House, the National Library and Australian War Memorial.

As the cost of hosting the event soars to almost 2 million Australian dollars (1.8 million US dollars), Stanhope said, "Participation is a way of allowing our differences in a clear and clarion voice, even as we celebrate our similarities and our shared humanity."

There were about 20 Chinese flame attendants accompanying the torch on Wednesday. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said, "The physical security of the Olympic torch will be provided by Australian security officials only. And the role of representatives of the Beijing Olympic Committee will be simply to attend physically to the lighting and relighting of the flame itself."

But Chinese Ambassador to Australia Zhang Junsai told Channel Nine on Tuesday night, that the role of the Chinese attendants "is to make sure that the flame will not go out. If the flame is attacked, I believe they will use their body."

Thousands of pro-Tibet demonstrators are descending on Canberra to hold a peaceful rally during Thursday's relay, while thousands of Chinese supporters are also planning a rally to support China and the Beijing Olympics.

Ellis told reporters, " Australia has a long tradition not just of participation in the Olympic Games but also a great record of success."

Australia hosted the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne and the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Ahead of Thursday's relay, the flame has been taken to an undisclosed location.

ACT Olympic torch relay planning committee chair Ted Quinlan told reporters, "I don't know (where), and I don't want to know. Originally, it was going to a hotel, but there's a distinct possibility it's going to go to the (Chinese) embassy, but I don't know."

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