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Internet outcry as Olympic torch relay continues despite killer quake

May 14, 2008

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
May 13, 2008 [09:09 AM]

BEIJING (AFP) - The Olympic torch relay continued its "journey of harmony" around China on Tuesday despite a devastating earthquake that has left tens of thousands killed or missing, triggering an Internet outcry.

China's official Xinhua news agency announced that the torch had embarked on its 12th domestic leg in the southeastern province of Fujian, just one day after the 7.8-magnitude quake devastated vast areas of southwest China.

The leg kicked off at 8:12 am (0012 GMT) in Longyan, a town in the western part of the province with China's Olympic weightlifting medallist Zhang Xiangxiang running the first stage, Xinhua reported.

On its website, the Beijing Olympic organising committee showed a picture of a beaming Zhang holding the torch aloft.

Li Zhanjun, a spokesman for the organising committee, said the organisers were "very sad" for the victims, but the quake would not affect the preparation of the Games or the torch relay.

"The earthquake-stricken area is not on the route of the torch relay, so the relay will go on as scheduled," he told Xinhua.

Li said the "route and schedule were a joint decision by the International Olympic Committee and (the Beijing organisers). We have no right to change it alone."

On Wednesday the relay -- whose motto is "Journey of Harmony" -- was scheduled to head to Jiangxi province as it continues its three-month journey through China culminating in Beijing with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron on August 8 to begin the Games.

Hao Hailei, spokesman for the provincial torch relay organising committee in Jiangxi, insisted that the relay would go ahead as planned, according to the state-run China News Service.

The decision to carry on regardless of a major natural disaster triggered an outcry on the Internet, with Chinese netizens slamming organisers.

Posting the committee's main telephone number on Sina.com, a popular web portal, one resident of northern Hubei province said "all Chinese should ring them up and condemn them for being so inhuman."

A resident of Fujian said the relay should be cancelled and the money saved should be sent to help quake victims.

"I think this whole wasteful relay should be scrapped -- let's show a little humanity,' the post said.

The relay is due to pass through disaster-hit Sichuan province in mid-June, with a leg planned for the provincial capital Chengdu on June 18, four days after visiting Chongqing which is also reeling from the quake.

Efforts to contact relay organisers in the quake-hit province were unsuccessful.

The relay has been dogged by protests since the flame was ignited in Olympia, Greece, on March 24, with international legs witnessing protests over China's rule of Tibet, its human rights record and support of Sudan's pariah government.

When the relay ends, the torch will have travelled 137,000 kilometres (85,000 miles) around the globe over 130 days, the longest Olympic torch relay in history.
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