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Olympic flame arrives in Malaysia amid tight security

The Olympic flame arrives ahead of a relay in which it will be guarded by about 1,000 police watching for possible protesters over China's Tibet crackdown.
AP | By Vijay Joshi, Kuala Lumpur
UPDATED ON APR 20, 2008 10:07 AM IST

The Olympic flame arrived in Malaysia on Sunday ahead of a relay in which it will be guarded by about 1,000 police watching for possible protesters over China's Tibet crackdown and human rights record.

The flame, stored in a special container, arrived from Bangkok at about 2 am (1800 GMT on Saturday) on a plane dedicated to carry it to all 19 international destinations on the torch relay before it lands in Beijing for the Olympic Games' opening ceremony in August. A Buddhist group held special prayers on Sunday at a temple in Kuala Lumpur to call for a trouble-free run of the torch on Monday and a peaceful Olympics.

Some 300 Chinese students studying in Malaysia greeted the flame at the airport along with representatives from the National Sports Council and the police, a statement from Olympic Council of Malaysia said.

The flame was taken to a luxury hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur ahead of Monday's relay run starting at nearby Independence Square. Its 16-kilometer (10-mile) route will highlight various landmarks, including the top of the Kuala Lumpur Tower, a telecommunications installation that provides a scenic aerial view of the city. The torch relay will end at the iconic Petronas Twin Towers in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Protests in other cities have triggered an unprecedented security detail for the Malaysian leg.

Some 1,000 policemen and commandos will be deployed along the route even though police have not received reports of any planned protests, said a police spokesman, who declined to be named citing protocol.

Roads will be closed to traffic along the route. Some of the 80 people nominated to carry the torch include Olympic badminton medalists Rashid Sidek, Cheah Soon Kit and Yap Kim Hock, women's world squash champion Nicol David, bowler Shalin Zulkifli and swimmer Lim Keng Liat.

Growing criticism of China's human rights record has turned the Olympics into one of the most contentious in recent history. China's recent crackdown in Tibet, which put down sometimes-violent demonstrations against Beijing's rule over the Himalayan region, has triggered protests and attempted disruptions of the torch relay in several cities, notably Paris and London. Police "are fully aware of the challenges that this torch has faced in other situations, and they have been organizing themselves to face any of these challenges," said M Jegathesan, vice president of the Olympic Council Malaysia.

On Friday, about 30 Falun Gong practitioners demonstrated in Kuala Lumpur, calling for an end to alleged Chinese human rights abuses ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

China has banned the Falun Gong spiritual movement as a dangerous cult. It is not banned in Malaysia.

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