Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday officially declared open the start of a grand Olympic torch relay by re-lighting the flame in the host city Beijing, amidst tight security after pro-independence Tibetan protestors marred a similar ceremony in Greece.
The ceremony kicked off at the Tiananmen Square, the world's largest, two hours after a specially chartered Air China plane carrying the flame from Greece touched down at about 9 am local time.
At the ceremony held in front of the Great Hall of the People with the Forbidden Palace forming the backdrop to the rostrum, Hu kindled the cauldron and handed over the torch to Olympic champion hurdler Liu Xiang, kickstarting the longest-ever Olympic torch relay.
"I declare the torch relay of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games begun," Hu announced amidst a joyous atmosphere with thousands of doves and colourful balloons released into the sky.
The flame is scheduled to depart from Beijing on Tuesday for the Kazakh city of Almaty, the first stop in its global tour of 135 cities, including New Delhi, India, where it will reach on April 17.
The relay, with highest number of torchbearers in its history, will cover 137,000 kilometers in 130 days before the flame finally arrives at the National Stadium in Beijing on August 8, 2008 for the opening ceremony.
The Olympic torch relay has drawn special attention of Tibetan prostestors, due to unrest in the Himalayan country since last three weeks.
Authorities sealed off Tiananmen Square and two subway stations near it were closed with security personnel seen on surrounding buildings. The event was open to only 5,000 select guests, including cheer squads.
The square was also closed to the vehicles from several kilometers and pedestrians and bicyclists were kept at one block away.
The International Olympic Committee Coordination Commission Chairman for the Beijing Olympics Hein Verbruggen read out a message from the IOC President Jacques Rogge, saying the flame and the torch heralded not just the arrival of the Games but also spreading a message of peace to the world.
"From today, the torch will carry the flame across the globe, creating anticipation and excitement for the Beijing Games wherever the relay passes," Rogge said.