Olympic torch re-lit in Beijing ceremony

By Stephen Wade, AP Sports Writer

Chinese President Hu Jintao presided over the re-lighting of the Olympic torch Monday in the host city, signaling the start of an around-the-world torch relay that already has become a magnet for protesters.

Hu's participation in the elaborate ceremony in Tiananmen Square in the heart of the capital underlined the importance China places on the Olympics and its hope to display a confident, strong nation to the world when the games open August 8.

The ceremony, 130 days before the start of the Olympics, came a week after the lighting ceremony for the Olympic torch in Greece was marred by protests.

"I declare the torch relay of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games has begun," Hu said after handing the flame to China's Olympic gold-medal hurdler, Liu Xiang. Liu jogged off the square as blue, gold and silver confetti flew, Chinese and Olympic flags waved and traditional drums pounded.

After a one-day stop in Beijing, the flame goes Tuesday to Almaty, Kazakhstan, the start of an 85,000-mile journey back to Beijing.

The grandiose relay is the longest in Olympic history and has the most torchbearers — a sign of the vast attention lavished on the games by Beijing, which hopes to showcase China's rising economic and political power.

But thus far it has provided a stage for activists who have been criticizing China over a range of issues including its handling of Muslims in the far west of the country, its control over Tibet and its relationship with Sudan.

Trouble is expected at stops in London, Paris and San Francisco, where Tibetan and rights groups have promised protests.

Carried in a small lantern, the flame arrived from Greece early Monday aboard a chartered Air China plane, greeted at Beijing airport by hundreds of flag-waving schoolchildren.

State television's live broadcast of the ceremony was delayed by about one minute, apparently to ensure the feed could be cut in the event of any disruptions.

Last week, the China Central Television broadcast cut away from the flame lighting ceremony in Greece when protesters ran behind Liu Qi, the president of the Beijing organizing committee, as he gave a speech. It showed stock footage of the ceremony site instead.

Amid tight security, about 5,000 people, including 220 foreign journalists, gathered for the ceremony in the middle of the vast square in the heart of Beijing.

The ceremony mixed bright colors and a modern look with military music and imagery from China's imperial past. Top Communist Party officials spoke of global understanding and respect, but also sprinkled their address with familiar political catch phrases.

Copyright © 2008 Associated Press

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