Flame for Beijing Games Lit at Olympia; Tibet Protesters Detained

The flame for the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Olympics was lit Monday using the sun's rays at a ceremony in Ancient Olympia. The event was briefly disrupted by three protesters from the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders.

The protesters ran onto the field while Liu Qi, president of the Beijing organizing committee and Beijing Communist Party Secretary, was giving a speech.

IOC president Jacques Rogge attended the ceremony at the site in southern Greece where the ancient Olympics were born. An actress dressed as a high priestess lit the flame using a convex mirror.

Police detained the three protesters, who displayed a banner showing the Olympic rings as handcuffs.

"If the Olympic flame is sacred, human rights are even more so," the 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."

The group has urged heads of state to boycott the games' opening ceremony.

When the incident took place, China state TV cut away to a prerecorded scene, preventing Chinese viewers from seeing the protest. TV commentators on Chinese TV never mentioned what took place.

Greek television commentary also made no mention of the incident.

Police also detained one Tibetan campaigner and a Greek photographer with him in the village of Ancient Olympia, just outside the site, where Tibet protesters had gathered.

Lhadon Tethong, director of Students for a Free Tibet, said both men were taken to the local police station.

"One of our colleagues saw them being dragged by about 20 police through town," Tethong told The Associated Press.

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 99 Tibetans have been killed.

Monday's ceremony was held an hour early — starting at 0900GMT — to avoid 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-kilometer (85,000-mile) journey across five continents, ending at the Beijing stadium on Aug 8.

High priestess Maria Nafpliotou handed the torch to Alexandros Nikolaidis, who won a silver medal in taekwondo at the 2004 Athens Games. He was to hand the flame to Luo Xuejuan, who won China's only swimming gold medal in Athens.

A total 645 torchbearers will carry the flame through Greece for a week, over 1,528 kilometers (950 miles). 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.

Forests around the birthplace of the ancient Olympics were devastated by wildfires that killed 66 people and ravaged southern Greece last year. The flames were stopped on the fringe of the ancient site.

More than 30,000 trees and shrubs have since been planted around the site.