China launched the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games torch relay Monday amid much fanfare and tight security. The torch is to travel to major cities across the globe where it is expected to be a target for protesters concerned about human rights in China. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.
The Olympic flame touched down in Beijing Monday for a ceremony in Tiananmen Square marking the start of the Olympic torch relay.
Ethnic minority dancers joined flag-waving students and middle aged women who were organized to celebrate the lighting of the torch. Several thousand people, including Chinese officials, foreign diplomats and media attended the red-carpet event.
Security was tight in and around the square, which was cut off to vehicles and pedestrians.
China's President Hu Jintao used the torch to light a cauldron before handing it off to China's world champion hurdler, Liu Xiang, as he declared the Beijing 2008 Olympics torch relay begun.
The torch-lighting ceremony was billed as a live broadcast on national television, but was in fact delayed by nearly a minute in case something went wrong. Protesters last week disrupted an Olympic ceremony in Athens for the lighting of the torch. The activists unfurled banners and shouted slogans against Beijing's controls on the media and Tibet. China's state television cut away from the protests.
The Beijing Olympics have been targeted by activists who say the Chinese government has not kept its Olympic bid promises to improve human rights.
Beijing maintains it has honored those promises and says the Games should not be used for political objectives or to interfere in China's internal affairs.
The International Olympic Committee has said the Games will have a positive effect on human rights in China.
Hein Verbruggen heads the IOC commission inspecting the Beijing Game preparations. He spoke at the ceremony. "I am certain that the Games themselves will not only be a moment of sporting excellence, but also an opportunity for the people of China and the world to learn (about), discover and respect each other," said Verbruggen.
The torch leaves Tuesday for Kazakhstan and will pass through 19 countries before returning to China. Human rights activists have said they will protest the relay when it passes through major western cities, potentially embarrassing Beijing.
The torch relay is also scheduled to pass through Tibet, where the largest anti-government protests since 1989 broke out earlier this month. Beijing sent thousands of troops into Tibetan areas, imposed tight controls on Buddhist monks, and refused to allow independent investigation of the incidents.