A smooth run for Olympic torch in the Indian capital

April 17th, 2008 - 7:39 pm ICT by admin  

(Second Lead)

New Delhi, April 17 (IANS) The Beijing Olympic torch completed its India run Thursday in a tightly orchestrated relay that lasted a little over 30 minutes with thousands of security personnel ensuring that the most sensitive leg of the global relay proceeded without a hitch. As police and paramilitary personnel swamped the area to keep away Tibetan protesters who had disrupted the event in Paris and London, film stars joined sportspersons past and present to hastily pass the flame from one to another.

The event went off peacefully but it caused chaos in many parts of the capital after the usually bustling heart of the city was sealed off for traffic and even some metro services were cancelled. Office buildings in the vicinity were blocked after lunch to prevent possible infiltration by Tibetan demonstrators.

The India Gate lawns were mostly empty, except for officials, sponsors, swarming security personnel and the Olympic Holy Flame Protection Group that formed the inner circle protecting the flame.

Vice president of the Chinese Olympic Association Lu Xiang flagged off the relay of the Olympic flame, which arrived here just after midnight Wednesday under a thick security blanket and was kept overnight at the Le Meridien Hotel.

Amongst the 70 odd who carried the flame from Raisina Hill, with the presidential palace in the background, to the India Gate monument were former track queens P.T. Usha and Shiny Wilson, hockey stars Aslam Sher Khan, Zafar Iqbad and Dhanraj Pillai, shooters Abhinav Bindra and Manavjit Singh Sandhu, film stars Saif Ali Khan and Aamir Khan and cricketer Bishen Singh Bedi.

The honour of the last lap, cut short from nine kilometres to 2.3 kilometres due to security concerns, particularly after protests in the West, was reserved for tennis stars Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes, known as the Indian Express, who lit up the Olympic bowl at India Gate.

Joining them at the end of the track were Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Lt Governor Tejinder Khanna, Indian Olympic Association chief Suresh Kalmadi, newly appointed Sports Minister M.S. Gill and Chinese ambassador Zhang Yan. The event rounded off with a performance by bhangra pop artist Daler Mehndi.

While officials congratulated themselves on an event gone smoothly, elsewhere in the city trouble broke out with Tibetans trying to breach the thick security cordon.

About 50 protesters were rounded up close to the India Gate area, which saw a three-tier security akin to Republic Day.

At Le Meridien Hotel, where the Olympic torch had been kept overnight, nine Tibetans including a monk tried entering the premises but were swiftly whisked away by police

Earlier, thousands of supporters of a ‘Free Tibet’ marched from Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial Rajghat to the Jantar Mantar observatory in central Delhi three kilometres away. They were joined by activist Nafisa Ali and politicians George Fernandes and Jaya Jaitly.

Shouting “Free Tibet” and “Hu Jintao murdabad (Down with Hu Jintao)”, the marchers carried placards saying “Free Tibet”, “Stop Cultural Genocide” and “Support Tibet”. The demonstration, however, passed off peacefully, ending barely a kilometre from the Indian parliament.

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