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Tibetan activists' Freedom Torch Relay begins with Ancient Olympia ceremony

March 12, 2008

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece 10 Mar (AP) - Tibetan activists held a
torch-lighting ceremony in Ancient Olympia Monday as part of a
campaign to protest China's rule over Tibet.

Police prevented the Tibetan group, Team Tibet, from entering the
Ancient Olympia stadium, and the ceremony took place outside the gates
of the site's museum. The group aims to
have its Tibetan Freedom Torch Relay pass through 50 cities and end
inside Tibet on Aug. 8, the day of the Beijing Olympics' opening
ceremony.

The official flame-lighting ceremony for the Beijing games is to be
held in Olympia, birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games, on March 24.
Authorities have been working to restore the site from the damage it
suffered in devastating wildfires that swept southern Greece in
August. The flames stopped just short of the ancient stadium.

«The Chinese regime will try to use the games to advance its own
political agenda ... that's why we took the protest to Ancient
Olympia,» said Tendon Dahortsang, a spokeswoman for the Tibetan group.

Five Tibetan women dressed in traditional outfits as goddesses
performed a short ceremony outside the museum, lighting a torch and
handing it to Tibetan shot-putter Tsultim Golpe.

Police stopped Golpe as she began her run and took her torch, handing
it back later with the flame extinguished.

She and other activists were escorted back to their hotels in Olympia
by police, but no arrests were made.

Officials from China's Athens Embassy were in Olympia, filming the
participants in the ceremony.

The ceremony was set up to highlight the situation in Tibet and «to
show the (Beijing) regime that the torch stands for the values of
peace and understanding,» Dahortsang said. She added that, while local
authorities and police tried to stop the ceremony, «local people were
very supportive and encouraging.

Monday also marked the 49th anniversary of a Tibetan uprising against
China that was crushed in 1959, leading to Tibet's spiritual leader,
the Dalai Lama, fleeing to India.

Local officials were angry at what they said was the use of an
archaeological site to advance political disputes.

«Olympia is a sight where people come together, a site of peace. It's
not a place for political conflict or settlement of disputes, whatever
the rights and wrongs in the case,» Olympia Mayor Giorgos Aidonis told
the AP.

«I am very angry at them. They did not even meet with us, to discuss
their issue,» he said, adding that «this incident hurts Greece's image
and is an insult to the traditional torch-lighting ceremony.
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