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Few Spectators Witness Olympic Torch Relay in India


It was a shortened run on deserted streets in New Delhi for the Olympic torch. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports that in order to avoid interference from Tibetan protesters and prevent further embarrassment to Beijing, the flame was enveloped in a triple layer of security.

Indian authorities sealed off the heart of the capital so that 70 runners could carry the Olympic torch from the Presidential Palace to India Gate. The route originally set to cover nine kilometers was shortened to just over two kilometers.

Threats by Tibetans to disrupt the event also caused officials to put 15,000 security personnel in a three-ring cordon around the flame.

The public was kept away from the relay route. State television showed torchbearers jogging a few meters on an empty avenue, surrounded by Chinese and Indian security agents, and then passing the flame to the next runner.

At the conclusion of the abbreviated run, the executive vice president of the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee, Jiang Xiayou, thanked organizers for a successful relay in New Delhi.

He says China appreciates the hospitality Indians have shown and their passion for the Olympic flame.

On the streets of Delhi there was a different type of passion directed at the Chinese and their torch.

Indian police say they used "moderate force" to repel several dozen Tibetans, protesting against the Beijing Olympics, who tried to break through the protective cordon.

India is home to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, as well as 100,000 of his followers who have taken refuge since 1959 when China crushed an uprising in Tibet and annexed it.

Hours before the official torch relay, clergy from various Indian faiths gathered in front of the eternal flame at the national memorial for Mahatma Gandhi.

Monks, mullahs, sadhus and priests together prayed for peace in Tibet and sang English and Hindi versions of "We Shall Overcome," the gospel song that was an anthem of the U.S. civil rights movement.

Outside the torch cordon, Tibetans marched through the streets of New Delhi in what they billed as a parallel torch run.

A bit of trouble erupted when the Tibetans tried to hold aloft Buddhist prayer lamps and flashlights, prompting police to try to seize the items.

Tibetan lama Karma Thakpa says their demonstration is meant to bring greater awareness of China's poor human rights record in Tibet.

The Buddhist teacher says people of every nationality carry a torch for their country so Tibetans, as well, are holding a torch and marching for their nation.

Some police carried heavy blankets along the demonstration route amid fears that some Tibetans would try to set themselves on fire.

Police say some Tibetans were detained for trying to storm the grounds of the Chinese Embassy and the luxury hotel where the Olympic torch was sequestered prior to its brief run.

Following the Indian relay, the flame headed back to a chartered plane bound for its next destination, Thailand.