Under tight security cover, the Beijing Olympic torch was taken through a 2.3 km stretch in India’s capital today with Tibetans protesting in various places. The public was kept away and all the access roads to the historic stretch were cut off for several hours to ensure the relay’s smooth passage, which was plagued by disruptions in London, San Francisco and Paris.
70 sports figures and film stars passed the torch to each other in Delhi
The Beijing Olympic torch completed its India run on 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 already disrupted the event in Paris and London, film stars joined sportspersons past and present to hastily pass the flame from one to another.
Although the event went off peacefully it caused chaos in many parts of the capital after the usually bustling heart of the city was sealed off for traffic and some metro services were cancelled.
Unity and brotherhood
The Indian Sports Minister M S Gill welcomed the Olympic torch: “The torch symbolizes the unity and brotherhood of mankind and the aspirations of world youth. Our people welcome the torch’s visit to India and we look forward to the Olympic Games in August.
A nervous Chinese delegation, which was keen to see the most sensitive leg of the protest-hit Beijing Olympic torch relay unfold without a hitch, was relieved. The vice president of the Chinese Olympic Association Lu Xiang thanked the organisers:
“Allow me to extend on behalf of the Beijing Organising Committee for the 29th Olympiad our sincere thanks to the Indian government, the Delhi government, the Indian Olympic Association and all the torchbearers who have run today.”
Amongst the 70 odd people 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 Iqbal 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 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 also lit up the Olympic bowl at India Gate.
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.
Thousands of supporters of a 'Free Tibet' took part in a parallel torch rally, marching from Mahatma Gandhi's memorial Rajghat to the Jantar Mantar observatory.
Dhondup Dorj, the Tibetan Youth Congress’ vice-president, explained: “We have called this the light of truth and freedom. The freedom torch is different. This has nothing to do with the Olympic torch. We are doing a symbolic thing and we are taking this in a car to Jantar Mantar and then to Raajghat after the programme is over.”
The Olympic torch now goes to Bangkok in Thailand for its next leg.