Olympic torch arrives in China

BEIJING — The Olympic flame arrived in Beijing for a torch re-lighting ceremony Monday, signaling the start of a round-the-world relay that is expected to be a lightning rod for protests against China's policies and human rights practices.

The flame's arrival in Beijing was shown live on state television, and comes a week after the lighting ceremony for the Olympic torch in Greece was marred by protests. There also were protests Sunday by a pro-Tibetan group when Greek officials handed over the flame to organizers of the Beijing Games in Athens.

The torch relay has been heavily promoted by the Chinese government. The chartered Air China plane was greeted at the Beijing airport on Monday by hundreds of schoolchildren waving Chinese and Olympics flags.

Chief Beijing organizer Liu Qi carried the flame off the plane in a small lantern. He was greeted by Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Communist Party's supreme nine-man Politburo Standing Committee.

About 5,000 people, including 220 foreign journalists, were on hand for the ceremony in Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing.

All the seats were a bright red and faced north where a huge portrait of Mao Zedong overlooks the square. Martial artists and dancers wearing costumes representing minority ethnic groups, including Tibetans, cavorted on a huge red carpet covering much of the north end of the square.

Authorities have noticeable boosted security in downtown Beijing in recent days. Police also closed the square to vehicles, and pedestrians and bicyclists were kept at one block away.

After a one-day stop in Beijing, the flame goes Tuesday to Almaty, Kazakhstan, the start of the 20-country, 85,100-mile global journey.

The grandiose relay is the longest in Olympic history and has the most torchbearers — a sign of the vast attention lavished on the Games by Beijing, which hopes to use it to showcase China's rising economic and political power.

Instead, however, it has provided a stage for human rights activists who have been criticizing China over a range of issues including its control over Tibet, its relationship with Sudan and its handling of Muslims in the far west of the country.

Tibetan and rights groups have said they will stage protests along the torch route.

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