Protesters crash Olympic torch ceremony

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Pro-Tibet demonstrators have tried to hijack the Beijing Olympic torch lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia.

In globally televised ceremony to mark the start of a five-month torch relay, the actress Maria Nafpliotou playing the high priestess used a break in the clouds to light the torch in front of the Temple of Hera.

However, just before the torch-lighting ceremony inside the archaeological site that played host to the Olympics in ancient Greece, a few demonstrators tried to break a tight police cordon.

One of them, unfurling a banner, managed to approach Beijing Games chief Liu Qi during his speech in front of hundreds of officials but was taken away without reaching him.

Police said the demonstrator was a 48-year old Tibetan and that three men had so far been detained.

Exiled Tibetans had pledged to demonstrate on the day against China's security crackdown in the region and what they say is the IOC's hesitance to pressure Beijing to improve its human rights record.

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Police said an additional 25 protesters had attempted to come in but a strong police presence kept them at bay before they dispersed.

Liu, who kept his cool during the demonstration, said: "The Olympic flame will radiate light and happiness, peace and friendship, and hope and dreams to the people of China and the whole world."

Greek athlete Alexandros Nikolaidis, an Athens 2004 Games taekwondo silver medallist, is the first torchbearer starting a six-day Greek relay before the flame is handed over to the Chinese on March 30.

"I express here the hope that the symbol of the torch will be recognised by everybody and that the right circumstances can be created, wherever the torch travels, for it to resonate," International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said in a speech inside the ancient stadium.

Greek police said they had also detained Tibetan activist Tenzin Dorjee of the Students for Free Tibet group in Olympia.

He was not part of the protest but was planning to stage a demonstration later in the day.  

Reuters