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Olympic Flame handed to China amid protests March 31, 2008

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31-03-08_flame1.jpg  Actress Maria Nafpliotou in the role of a high priestess holds the torch next to the altar with the Olympic Flame during the handover ceremony at a stadium in Athens yesterday. More than 2,000 uniformed and plainclothes police were deployed in the capital at the weekend to ensure the smooth handover of the flame.

31-03-08_flame2.jpg  Greek officials handed over the Olympic Flame to organizers of the Beijing Games yesterday amid minor protests by a pro-Tibetan group. The ceremony was held at the all-marble Panathenaic Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were staged in 1896.

31-03-08_flame3.jpg  Hundreds of police lined the flame’s route, scores of security vehicles followed the torch-bearers and helicopters hovered overhead, the strictest security measures since torch relays were launched at the 1936 Berlin Games.

31-03-08_flame4.jpg  “In 130 days the 2008 Beijing Olympics begin. We and the other nations of the world look forward to this moment,” said Beijing Games organizing chief Liu Qi before accepting the flame. The Games run from August 8 to 24.

31-03-08_flame5.jpg  Protesters holding Tibetan flags and shouting “Free Tibet” and “China out of Tibet” failed to break through the police cordon and get to the final torch-bearer entering the stadium. Police detained 21 Greeks and foreigners for staging the protests but said they would be released later. Several others were moved away from police cordons.

31-03-08_flame6.jpg  Thousands of Greek and Chinese spectators inside the stadium watched as Greek triple jumper Chrysopigi Devetzi carried the torch into the stadium lined with Greek and Chinese flags. Greek Presidential Guards and actresses dressed as ancient priestesses looked on. On Saturday and Sunday, about 2,000 police were deployed around Athens.

31-03-08_flame7.jpg  The torch will be officially welcomed in China today before beginning a worldwide relay, the longest ever, 130 days and covering 137,000 kilometers. Most of it will be on Chinese soil.

Olympic Flame handed over to China > photo gallery II March 30, 2008

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30-03-08_flame8.jpg  Greek actress Maria Nafpliotou in the role of the high priestess lights the altar with the Olympic flame at Athen’s Panathinaic Stadium, 30 March 2008, during the handover ceremony.

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30-03-08_flame10.jpg  The altar with the Olympic Flame is seen during the handover ceremony of the Olympic Flame to China for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, at the Athens Panathinaic Stadium, 30 March 2008. 

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30-03-08_flame12.jpg  The cauldron with the Olympic flame burns as spectators watch at Athens’ Panathenaic Stadium on Sunday, March 30, 2008. The flame was handed over to the 2008 Beijing Olympics organizers.

30-03-08_flame13.jpg  President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee Minos Kyriakou, handed over the Olympic Flame to Beijings’s Organizing Committee.

Olympic Flame handed over to China > photo gallery I March 30, 2008

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30-03-08_flame1.jpg  Mayor of Marathonas Spiros Zagaris (left) kindles a torch from the Olympic flame basin during the sixth day of the torch relay of the Beijing Olympic Games in Marathonas of Greece, March 29, 2008.

30-03-08_flame2.jpg  The altar with the Olympic Flame is seen at the Athens Acropolis, 29 March 2008. More than 2,000 uniformed and undercover police have been deployed in the Greek capital to secure the official handover of the Olympic flame, which arrived on the ancient Acropolis in Athens yesterday, ending the Greek leg of the torch relay before being flown to China.

30-03-08_flame3.jpg  Entrance to the Athens Panathinaic Stadium, where the first modern Olympic Games were held.

30-03-08_flame4.jpg  Torchbearer Greek Olympic silver medalist Chrysopygi Devetzi holds the torch with the Olympic Flame at Athens Panathinaic Stadium during the handover ceremony of the Olympic Flame to China for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, 30 March 2008.

30-03-08_flame5.jpg  Torchbearer Greek Olympic silver medalist Chrysopygi Devetzi holds the torch with the Olympic Flame at Athens Panathinaic Stadium, 30 March 2008.

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30-03-08_flame7.jpg 

Olympic Flame handed over to China March 30, 2008

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Thousands of spectators gathered in Athens for Sunday’s handover ceremony of the Olympic flame to organizers of the Beijing Games.

30-03-08_panathinaic_stadium.jpg  The Olympic Flame has been officially handed over to Chinese officials. The ceremony took place at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, amid tight security. It comes as demonstrations continue in numerous countries over China’s deadly crackdown on protesters in Tibet. On Saturday EU Foreign Ministers agreed on a joint response. The bloc called for an end to violence and urged China to hold talks on Tibetan cultural and religious rights.

However, the Ministers avoided any mention of the Beijing Olympics or calls for EU countries to boycott the opening ceremony in Beijing. A small group of pro-Tibet activists tried to stop the flame from reaching the stadium but were held back by police. Demonstrations were also held in other parts of Athens.

30-03-08_athens_torch1.jpg  Thousands of Greek and Chinese spectators cheered as Greek triple jumper Hrysopigi Devetzi carried the torch into the stadium, lined with the flags of both countries.

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30-03-08_athens_torch3.jpg  Greek Presidential Guards and actresses dressed as ancient priestesses looked on.

“It was an emotional experience for me,” Devetzi said. “I hope the flame will bring light to all athletes, especially those from Greece and that everything with the Games goes well.”

The President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Minos Kyriakou, delivered the flame to chief Beijing organizer Liu Qi. The torch later left Athens on a specially equipped Air China flight expected to arrive in Beijing on Monday.

Witnesses say the protesters, waving Tibetan flags and chanting anti-Chinese slogans, were arrested in Athens Sunday while trying to break through police lines to stop a runner carrying the torch from reaching the handover site. Hundreds of Greek police officers were on alert, after sporadic protests last week along the torch relay route from ancient Olympia.

The torch will be flown from Athens to Beijing, where runners will carry it across much of the world in the run-up to the August Summer Games. Pro-Tibetan activists have vowed to shadow the torch on its journey. On one leg of the route, the torch is set to pass through Tibet on its way to Mt. Everest. Human rights groups are demanding a ban on that part of the journey, until Beijing agrees to permit an international investigation of the Tibetan unrest.

More photos from today’s ceremony follow shortly. Stay tuned!

Olympics protest threat grows March 29, 2008

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The Olympic Torch will arrive in Athens today ahead of its handover to Beijing officials amid heavy security with authorities anxious to prevent a repetition of protests that disrupted the flame’s lighting ceremony earlier this week.

Activists and Tibetan demonstrators disrupted the globally televised Beijing torch-lighting ceremony at Ancient Olympia on Monday, breaking a tight security cordon and unfurling protest banners during the Games organizing chief’s speech. Further protests marred the start of the relay, with demonstrators lying on the ground in front of the vehicle convoy accompanying the torch-bearers in Olympia and holding up the relay several times.

“We are planning several actions for Sunday and Monday in Athens to demonstrate against China, for sure,” Students for a Free Tibet representative Tashi Sering told Reuters. “On Monday, we will also have a peace march in central Athens.”

29-03-08_olympic_torch.jpg  The Olympic Flame will depart for China on Monday. More than 2,000 officers are to be deployed around the Greek capital this weekend. The Flame will reach the capital today, spending the night on the Acropolis. Media have been banned from the Acropolis during the flame’s arrival. A ceremony to mark the handing over of the flame will also be held at the Panathenaic Stadium in central Athens tomorrow in front of an estimated 20,000 people.

Greek officials kept details of the route’s Athens leg under tight wraps yesterday, fearing further protest action. Police said the precise route was not being made public for security reasons.

A Greek human rights group said yesterday police prevented its members from displaying a banner saying “No to the games of blood, dope and kickbacks” along the relay route in the city of Volos, and arrested one protester. Also, a group of Danish activists said police stopped 10 of its members dressed in orange from being “a peaceful part of the torch relay” near the city of Larissa. The event was organized by a group led by Danish artist Jens Galschioet.

Greece handing over the Olympic Flame to Beijing March 28, 2008

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More than 2,000 officers to watch over Panathenaic Stadium Ceremony

Police will deploy more than 2,000 officers in Athens this weekend to supervise the handover of the Beijing Olympics Flame to Chinese organizers. The move came after protests against Chinese rule in Tibet disrupted the launch of the Games torch relay in Ancient Olympia on Monday.

A ceremony to mark the handing over of the Olympic flame will be held at Panathenaic Stadium in central Athens on Saturday in front of an estimated 20,000 people. Yesterday a small group of protesters unfurled pro-Tibet banners in Thessaloniki ahead of the flame’s arrival in the northern city.

28-03-08_panathenaic_stadium.jpg  The Panathenaic, or as it is locally called The Kallimarmaro due to its all marble structure, stadium is where the first Olympic Games were held in April 1896. It is situated close to the Ardettos Hill, in central Athens, within walking distance from the Acropolis and the Olympian Zeus Columns.

Ancient Olympia protesters are released March 26, 2008

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Outburst prompts reactions > Three human rights demonstrators arrested for disrupting Monday’s flame-lighting ceremony at Ancient Olympia to protest China’s crackdown in Tibet were freed yesterday.

The three French journalists, members of the French media rights group Reporters Without Borders, said they had not intended to criticize Greece but to contest Beijing’s right to host this year’s Olympics.

It seemed that their outburst had some impact. Questioned by reporters after the incident, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would consider a personal boycott of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony if China refuses to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama on Tibet. «All options are open and I appeal to the Chinese leaders’ sense of responsibility» Sarkozy said. The White House said US President George W. Bush still intends to attend the Games.

The incident embarrassed Greek authorities, who had planned a large-scale security operation. The three protesters bypassed guards to access the ancient Olympia site. One ran up behind a Chinese Olympic official who had been delivering a speech to a large crowd of dignitaries, including Greece’s President Karolos Papoulias and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, and unfurled a black flag depicting the Olympic rings as handcuffs.

The disruption was aired briefly on state television, which then cut away from the protester being dragged off by police and zoomed in on the Chinese spokesman. In China, state television did not broadcast the incident, cutting to prerecorded footage. Chinese Foreign Ministry officials yesterday condemned «these elements of sabotage and chaos.»

Greek government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros also criticized «actions that have nothing to do with the Olympic spirit

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, who was also at the ceremony, said, «It is always sad to see such a ceremony disrupted.» Before the ceremony, Rogge had admitted to fearing possible hijacks of the torch relay.

The torch yesterday reached Ioannina in northwestern Greece. The flame is to be handed over to the Chinese in a ceremony at Athens’s Panathenaic Stadium on March 30.

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