The Olympic torch resumed its journey through China on Thursday after a three-day period of national mourning for victims of the country's devastating earthquake. The torch relay resumed at a container port in eastern China's seaport city of Ningbo. It will travel through the city and across the Hangzhou Bay bridge to Jiaxing.
A ceremony was held before the relay began on a dock under a giant crane in the port, with a minute of silence for the victims and millions of people left homeless by the earthquake. The crew of the MSC Rita watched from their ship, which blew its horn to signal the end of the ceremony. Flags, which were at half-staff during the mourning period, fluttered in the wind. It was to be moved later in the day by vehicle to the country's commercial center of Shanghai.
Also on Thursday, Olympics organisers announced that the Sichuan province leg of the relay had been shifted from mid-June to early August because of the quake.
So far, the torch has had a smooth relay in mainland China, uninterrupted by the protests over Tibet and human rights that dogged parts of its international tour.
But organisers scaled down the celebratory, triumphant tone of the relay after the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck central China on May 12, flattening entire communities.
Corporate sponsors such as Coca-Cola and Chinese computer maker Lenovo Corp. were also back displaying their logos on Thursday. The torch relay last stopped in Hangzhou, a scenic city to the west of Ningbo. Organisers combined two days of events in Ningbo and Jiaxing, but it was unclear exactly how its route through the rest of China would be adjusted to make up for the delay this week.
China's leadership has sought to use the Olympics, which begin on Aug. 8 in Beijing, to showcase the country's achievements and rally national unity. The torch relay, which has traveled to all corners of the globe and to the top of Mount Everest, has played a crucial role in the buildup to the Games.
Organisers initially resisted changes in the relay, which corporate sponsors have paid millions of dollars to fund. But public pressure for a moratorium on the event, mainly seen on Chinese-language Web sites and blogs, prompted organizers to adjust details of the relay. Some legs of the run were shortened and donations for victims have been collected along the way. The torch was to remain in Shanghai on Friday and Saturday, and then travel on to neighboring Jiangsu province. It is due to arrive June 13 in the sprawling Yangtze-river city of Chongqing and enter neighboring Sichuan province, site of the quake's epicenter, two days later.
It is not known if that schedule will stay the same. The torch returns to Beijing on Aug. 6, two days before the opening ceremonies.
During the three-day national mourning period, flags were flying at half-staff and entertainment events were canceled. Television networks were running only news programs.