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Anti-China protests mar ceremony

Protests by press freedom and pro-Tibet groups disrupted the flame lighting ceremony for the August 8-24 Beijing Olympics in Olympia on Monday.

world Updated: Mar 25, 2008 00:21 IST

Protests by press freedom and pro-Tibet groups disrupted the flame lighting ceremony for the August 8-24 Beijing Olympics in Olympia on Monday.

Three members of the Paris-based group “Reporters Without Borders” were detained after running onto the stadium field during the ceremony in Ancient Olympia. Police confirmed they had detained three French nationals.

One protester displayed a banner showing the Olympic rings as handcuffs, while Liu Qi, president of the Beijing organising committee and Beijing Communist Party Secretary, was giving a speech.

"If the Olympic flame is sacred, human rights are even more so," the French group said in a statement. "We cannot let the Chinese government seize the Olympic flame, a symbol of peace, without denouncing the dramatic situation of human rights in the country."

Moments later, a Tibetan woman covered herself in red paint and lay in the road in front of a runner carrying the Olympic torch into the nearby village of ancient Olympia, while other protesters chanted "Free Tibet" and "Shame on China."

Two protesters were seen being detained by police, but Greek authorities had no immediate comment.

IOC president Jacques Rogge attended the ceremony, where the sun's rays were used to kindle the flame.

"It's always sad when there are protests. But they were not violent and I think that's the important thing," Rogge said.

Greek television commentary made no mention of the incident.

Tibet's deadly protests started March 10 in the capital of Lhasa on the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule. The demonstrations turned violent four days later, touching off demonstrations among Tibetans in three neighboring provinces. Beijing's official death toll from the rioting is 22, but the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile has said 130 Tibetans have been killed.

Monday's ceremony was held an hour early — starting at 0900GMT — to avoid the rain forecast for later Monday. Clouds hid the sun ahead of the Sydney 2000 Summer Games, as well as the Winter Games of 2006, 2002 and 1998 — forcing organizers to use a backup flame. From Olympia, the flame started on its 137,000-km journey across five continents, ending at the Beijing stadium on August 8.

A total 645 torchbearers will carry the flame through Greece for a week. It will make a stopover at the Acropolis before being handed over to Chinese officials at the restored ancient stadium where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.