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Olympic torch arrives in India under heavy guard…

Posted by ElJay Arem (IMC OnAir) on April 16, 2008

NEW DELHI: The Olympic torch touched down in the Indian capital early on Thursday, police and witnesses said, amid high security and concerns of increased protests by pro-Tibetan activists.

A plane carrying the flame landed from neighbouring Pakistan ahead of a short and heavily-guarded relay later on Thursday, the latest leg of the torch’s world tour before the Beijing Olympics.

The flame arrived at a military airbase in New Delhi and was received by Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi, witnesses said.

Riot police backed by paramilitary troops ringed the airbase, amid reports that 60 exiled Tibetans had staged a brief protest just outside the airport before they were taken away by soldiers.

“The torch has arrived and everything is under control,” a police spokesman told AFP. The torch has driven to the Chinese embassy in the capital, witnesses said.

Some 15,000 policemen and commandos have locked down the heart of New Delhi for the relay which will take place through a boulevard in the city centre.

Officials have refused to specify when the relay will begin amid fears that protesters, who are using the relay to demonstrate against China’s human rights record and its rule in Tibet, will disrupt the run.

“We have taken every precaution to ensure the event remains peaceful,” junior home minister Shakeel Ahmed also told reporters on Thursday.

Officials have also insisted that Thursday’s run – one of the most sensitive stretches of its global voyage, with India home to more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees – would be a success.

Exiled Tibetans have staged waves of protests in the run-up to the arrival of the torch here, including storming the Chinese embassy on March 21 which prompted Beijing to register a strong protest to New Delhi.

India is home to Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and some 100,000 Tibetans who fled their homeland after a failed uprising against neighbouring China’s rule in 1959.

Police on Wednesday manned yellow barricades leading to India Gate, the monument to slain Indian soldiers and the end point of the truncated run.

Traffic will be banned around the route, the Metro will be shut down and government offices will close during the run.

Bollywood actors Aamir Khan and Saif Ali Khan, tennis player Leander Paes and officials from China’s embassy in New Delhi were slated to run in the relay, which had earlier been shortened from nine kilometres to three kilometres for security reasons.

The early stages of the relay in London and Paris were overshadowed by demonstrations against Beijing’s crackdown on protests in Tibet, and the stage in San Francisco was also drastically curtailed.

Other legs, including a ceremony and relay around a stadium in the Pakistani capital on Wednesday, passed without incident.

(Source: AFP/de – 17 April 2008 0505 hrs | channelnewsasia.com)

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