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Tibetans slam Olympic ‘flame of shame’

OLYMPIA, Greece (CNN) — Three human rights protesters marred the Olympic torch lighting ceremony Monday, charging onto the field of an ancient Greek stadium to unfurl a banner calling for a boycott to the Beijing Summer Games.

The brief disruption unnerved thousands of spectators, dignitaries and Olympic officials who packed into the sprawling ancient stadium to watch actresses posing as priestesses light the Olympic flame from the sun’s rays.

Police confirmed they had detained the three French protesters, members of the Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders.

However, it remained unclear whether they would face trial for evading a massive security operation to unfurl a black banner depicting the Games’ trademark Olympic rings as handcuffs.

If the flame is sacred then so are humans, the French group said in a statement. We cannot let the Chinese seize the Olympic flame, a symbol of peace, without denouncing the dramatic situation of human rights in the country.

Olympic officials said it was the first time the movement’s flame-lighting ritual was upstaged by protests at the birthplace of the Games. Watch footage of torch ceremony security breach

Broadcast live, the stunt left Greek commentators speechless, but in China, state TV cut away to a pre-recorded scene, according to the Associated Press, preventing millions of Chinese viewers from watching the tumultuous start to their nation’s Games.

The torch was lit moments later as it began its epic 130-day, 137,000-kilo meters (85,000-miles) journey. Read all about history of the Olympic torch

More protests, however, followed. A Tibetan woman covered herself with red paint and lay on the ground, forcing torchbearers to weave around her as other protesters shouted Flame of shame.

We have Tibetans popping out of every corner protesting during the torch relay, said a senior Greek Olympics official. It will be very difficult to guard this relay.

A pro-Tibet group said in a statement that two of its members were violently detained after unfurling banners and Tibetan flags on the road as the torch made its way through Olympia.

No injuries or scuffles with police were reported.

Meanwhile, a Chinese activist who called for human rights ahead of the Olympics was sentenced to five years in prison, AP reported.

Yang Chunlin had gathered more than 10,000 signatures for an open letter titled We want human rights, not the Olympics. He was charged with subverting the power of the state, a charge authorities in China commonly use the charge to clamp down on dissent.

China’s communist leadership has faced a public relations fiasco since a spate of demonstrations turned violent in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on March 10, the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against communist rule.

Beijing claims 22 people have died in the clashes but the toll has since then varied and been impossible to confirm because of a news blackout imposed by China on the country’s interior. View map of all countries torch will visit

Earlier on Monday, Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee said he was engaged in a silent diplomacy with Beijing on Tibet but ruled out a boycott of the Games.

Greek authorities, humiliated by the security debacle, denounced the incidents.

The government condemns every attempt to interfere with the ceremony for the lighting of the Olympic flame through actions that have no relation at all with the Olympic spirit, said Evangelos Antonaros, Greece’s junior government spokesman.

Monday’s ceremony — held an hour earlier because of storm forecasts — marked the official countdown to the Beijing Games, setting off the Olympic flame on an unprecedented global odyssey.

Greek actress Maria Nafpliotou, portraying the High Priestess, lit the first torch. Alexandros Nikolaidis, a Greek athlete who won a silver medal in taekwondo at the 2004 Olympics, then carried the flame for the first mile.

After a ceremonial arrival in Beijing, the flame will move around the world through April. At the beginning of May, it begins a three-month trek through at least 111 Chinese cities in more than 30 provinces and regions. The mammoth trip is the longest ever in Olympic history.

The most controversial leg of the torch relay is planned for June, when it is scheduled to be carried through Tibet and three neighboring provinces where violent unrest broke out this month.

Olympic officials insisted last week that the relay in these areas will proceed as planned.

All the preparations for the torch relay in Tibet, Xinjiang, Qinghai and Gansu are proceeding very well, Beijing Olympics organizer Jiang Xiaoyu said.

The flame is set to arrive in Beijing on August 6, where it will be paraded around the city until entering the stadium for the Olympics opening ceremony on August 8. E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tibetans slam Olympic ‘flame of shame’ – found here.

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March 24, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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