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Greece hands China Olympic torch

March 31, 2008

BBC News
Sunday, 30 March 2008

The Olympic torch has been handed over to Chinese officials at a
ceremony in Athens, amid scuffles between police and pro-Tibet protesters.

A small group of demonstrators tried to stop the torch from reaching the
stadium where it was to be transferred.

Thousands gathered to watch as the flame was used to light a lamp, which
will now be flown to China.

The torch's passage through Greece has been dogged by protests on human
rights and Tibet.

The flame, which was lit in Olympia on 24 March, will be welcomed at a
ceremony in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Monday.

It will then tour 20 countries before returning for the opening on 8 August.

Meanwhile exiled Tibetans in India's capital Delhi launched an
"independence torch" to tour the world in an anti-China protest.

Route shortened

Sunday's formal handover was held in the Panathinaiko Stadium, where the
first modern Olympics took place in 1896.

Police had warned they would confiscate all banners, signs or objects
that might be thrown and arrest anyone who showed signs of protesting.

Greek organisers have altered the torch's route over the past few days
to nullify protests. The torch has had a police guard and a group of
runners to protect it.

Greek Olympic Committee spokesman Tassos Papachristou said Sunday's
route had been shortened.

"The flame will now run a small distance through the centre of Athens
before [the handover ceremony] at 1500 (1200 GMT)," he said.

On Saturday there was a peaceful protest beneath the Acropolis.

Security has also been increased in Beijing for the Tiananmen Square
ceremony, with a tightening of journalist accreditation.

There has been little movement internationally towards boycotting the
Games, although French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said "all options
are open" following the recent unrest in Tibet.

The Tibetan alternative torch was unveiled in Delhi on Sunday and will
next go to San Francisco on 9 April, when the Olympic torch is expected
to arrive.

Tibet's government-in-exile, based in India, says about 140 people were
killed in the crackdown on recent unrest by Chinese security forces.
Beijing disputes this, saying 19 people were killed by rioters.
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