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UN Chief Carries Olympic Torch in Sochi

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took part in the Olympic torch relay Thursday, one day before the Winter Olympic Games officially open in Russia's Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach passed the torch to Mr. Ban next to the Sochi River. Bach said he was glad to send an "Olympic message of peace and understanding."

Fans cheered both men as they carried the Olympic flame toward Fisht Olympic Stadium, where opening ceremonies promising to be spectacular will be held on Friday.

Qualifying rounds began on Thursday in several sports.

Russia took the lead in team figure skating competition, a new team gold medal event at the Winter Olympics. Russia's world pairs champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov crafted a thrilling performance to finish first with 83.79 points.

Snowboarding slopestyle also debuted at the Winter Games on Thursday. Austria's Anna Gasser qualified for the women's final with the top score of 95.50, while Canada's Maxence Parrot secured his place in the men's final with the high score of 97.50.

In other news, Mr. Ban condemned anti-gay discrimination and called on warring parties worldwide to observe an "Olympic truce."

On Thursday, he indirectly referenced a new Russian law banning the spread of "gay propaganda" among minors -- a law critics say can be broadly interpreted to crack down on support of gay rights in general.

On the security front, officials remain on high alert for possible terrorist attacks linked to the Olympic Games. U.S. homeland security officials are warning airlines flying to Russia to watch out for toothpaste tubes that may be filled with bomb-making materials.

The officials cited no specific threat.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich called media reports about the threats of explosives on flights to Russia a "misunderstanding." He also said President Vladimir Putin has said full-scale measures are being taken to guarantee security at the Sochi Olympics.

Islamic extremists have threatened to disrupt the games. A jihadist group from Dagestan claimed responsibility for the two suicide attacks that killed 34 people in Volgograd late last year.

Russian authorities have spent an estimated $2 billion to shore up security in advance of the Sochi Olympics. Analysts have warned of possible attacks against targets such as train stations.

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