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Olympic torch relay begins in Malaysia

Malaysian police detain three people as the Olympic torch began its four - hour journey amid tight security.
PTI | By Jaishree Balasubramanian, Kuala Lumpur
UPDATED ON APR 21, 2008 02:33 PM IST

The Olympic torch relay began its Malaysian leg at the Independence Square in Malaysia with hundreds of commandos guarding the flame to ward off any possible disruption and curious onlookers to get its glimpse.

Police escorted away three people, one Chinese monk and two Japanese nationals, for allegedly waving pro-Tibet banner at the Square before the relay started.

Malaysian authorities have made stringent security arrangements in city's key areas from where the flame will pass through in its four-hour journey and threatened to take action against those disturbing public order.

The president of the Olympic Council of Malaysia, Imran Tuanku Ja'afar was the first of the 80 torch bearers to begin the relay after a brief ceremony at the Square.

Almost 1000-strong police posse are on duty to guard the flame as the torch bearers began the 16.5-km relay between the sprawling Independence Square to the iconic Petronas twin Towers.

Several Chinese gathered to watch the send-off, carrying China's flag and Chinese language banners that read: "The Torch will spread around the world," and "No one can split China."

Malaysia's Foreign Minister Yatim Rais has said the government will take all measures to ensure the relay is successful and safe.

Rais said this leg of relay is a reflection of the close ties Malaysia has with China. Malaysia's multi-ethnic population comprises 25 per cent ethnic Chinese.

Kuala Lumpur is among 21 cities outside China that is hosting the Olympic torch relay themed "Journey of Harmony", over 130 days and covering 137,000 km.

The torch arrived by charter plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport from Thailand yesterday and was received by officials from the Olympic Council of Malaysia and China's Ambassador to Malaysia.

The Vajrayana Buddhist Council of Malaysia on Monday held an hour-long multi-faith prayer session, calling for peace in Tibet.

Pro-Tibet supporters had disrupted the torch relay during the western leg of the flame in London, Paris and San Francisco.

"We have a commitment to ensure that we have a good run," M Jegathesan, deputy President of the Olympic Council of Malaysia, had earlier said in an interview.

"Our police are fully aware" of what is needed to ensure security, Jegathesan added. The next stop of the relay, which started on April 1, will be in Jakarta. The flame will reach China on May 4.

"We have done everything in our capacity to ensure a smooth torch relay," Jegathesan said. Some of the 80 people nominated to carry the torch include Olympic Malaysian 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.

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

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