ATHENS, Greece – Chinese spectators cheered Sunday as Greece handed off the Olympic flame for its journey to Beijing and relay through 20 countries. But protesters brandishing Tibetan flags stole the limelight.
Two dozen activists chanted “Save Tibet!” and unfurled a banner reading “Stop Genocide in Tibet” before police intervened, detaining 21 protesters outside the Panathenian Stadium. Most were later freed.
A police cordon prevented the demonstrators from disrupting the final leg of Greece’s relay from the Acropolis to the marble stadium, the venue of the first modern Olympics in 1896.
About 7,000 Greek and Chinese spectators cheered as Greek triple jumper Hrysopigi Devetzi carried the torch into the stadium.
The president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Minos Kyriakou, delivered the flame to chief Beijing organizer Liu Qi. The torch later left Athens on a specially equipped Air China flight expected to arrive in Beijing today.
Qi promised a “grand welcoming ceremony” in Tiananmen Square, where the government has increased security. The torch will then travel through 20 countries before returning to mainland China.
Meantime, Karma Chophel, the speaker of Tibet’s parliament-in-exile, called Sunday for China to end its “brutal” crackdown against Tibetans and to allow independent observers into isolated Himalayan region.
And in Nepal, a group of 200 Tibetan exiles and monks tried to storm the Chinese Embassy visa office in the capital of Katmandu on Sunday but police beat them back with bamboo batons.