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Delhi: Olympic torch relay ends without incident

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
Last updated on: April 17, 2008 18:53 IST
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The Chinese government and the Delhi police heaved a sigh of relief on Thursday when the controversial Olympic torch relay in New Delhi ended without incident.

"The flame will leave for Thailand on the next leg of tour," said Suresh Kalmadi, president of the Indian Olympic Association, at a function organised at the main gate of the imposing Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The torch relay was delayed by at least two hours. The flame was lit by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and the torch was handed over to Suresh Kalmadi who ran 100 m before passing on the flame to legendary flying Sikh Milkha Singh.

"I am sending my good wishes on behalf of people of China and wish the Beijing games end successfully," Milkha Singh told as he waited with the torch to begin his part of the relay. He handed over the torch to the Chinese ambassador in New Delhi who felt proud holding it.

Gurbachan Singh Randhawa said he had carryied the torch for second time in the last 40 years.

"In 1964 when India got a chance of hosting the relay run from the airport right to Connaught Place, there were hardly any policemen," Randhawa said.

The relay culminated at the Major Dhyan Chand National stadium named after the man who was known for his skills in hockey.

Guarded by as many as 17,000 security personnel, the Beijing Olympic torch was taken through a 2.3 km stretch in Delhi on Thursday with Tibetans protesting in various places in the country.

For over five hours, the majestic Rajpath was turned into a security fortress with the Prime Minister's Office and Ministries of Defence, External Affairs and Finance lining the torch route from Rashtrapati Bhavan shut down.

The truncated run that lasted for about 40 minutes was smooth and incident free.

With a three-layered security ring akin to Republic Day arrangements in place, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit handed over the Olympic flame to Indian Olympic Association President Suresh Kalmadi after it was lit by Vice-Chairman of Beijing Olympics Organising Committee Jiang Yu with the imposing Rashtrapati Bhavan forming the backdrop.

'Flying Sikh' Milkha Singh, one of India's greatest athletes, had the honour to lead the relay before the torch changed hands with nearly 70 celebrites including sportsmen, film stars and politicians taking short runs culminating at the India Gate.

Sportsmen Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupati, Aslam Sher Khan, Dhanraj Pillay, Zafar Iqbal, Wilson Cherian, Khazan Singh, K Malleswari, K Kunjurani, Bishen Singh Bedi were among others who took part in the event.

The tinsel industry was represented by Aamir Khan and Saif Ali Khan.

Around 60 Tibetans were detained as they attempted to block roads and entered into minor clashes with police in various parts of Delhi.

The public was kept out and all the access roads to the historic stretch was cut off for several hours to ensure a smooth passage of the torch relay, which was earlier plagued by disruptions in London, San Francisco and Paris.

Para Olympian Rajinder Singh Rahelu, who was on a wheelchair, was among those who carried the torch which was kept at a five star hotel overnight after it was brought from Islamabad amid tight security. The torch will be later taken to Bangkok.

The India leg of the torch relay is considered one of the most sensitive in its global voyage as the country is home to about one lakh exiled Tibetans, who organised a wave of protests against Chinese crackdown in Lhasa.

With the area in and around Rajpath out of bounds, hundreds of Tibetans took out a parallel torch relay run from Rajghat, the samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi, to Jantar Mantar, which has been the epicentre of Tibetan protests over the past several days.

The torch was lit at Rajghat after an inter-religion prayer meeting and the large number of Tibetans, who had assembled there, took a pledge to ensure that the torch, which "signified the freedom of Tibet and humanity", keeps on burning.

The protestors carried Tibetan flags, placards and banners with messages such as 'Azad Tibet, Surakshit Bharat' and 'Free Tibet'.

In Mumbai, 45 Tibetans including nine women were detained after they attempted to hold a protest rally near the Chinese Consulate located in the business district of Nariman Point, police said.

In Bengaluru, which is home to a large number of Tibetans, there were protests with several of them taking out a procession from Banappa park to central MG road.

The Delhi run saw ace tennis duo of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, who took over the torch from former Olympian Randhir Singh, together lighting the Olympic cauldron at the India Gate bringing an end to the traditional ceremony which kept security pesonnel on tenterhooks.

Sprint Queen P T Usha, former Olympic bronze medalist weightlifter Karnam Malleshwari and world shooting champion Manavjit Singh Sandhu were among other sportspersons took part in the relay.

Barricades were put all along the Rajpath to thwart any attempts by Tibetans to sneak in. Barbed wire fences were put up outside the heavily guarded Chinese Embassy, which was targeted by Tibetan protestors in recent weeks.

Delhi police commandos dressed in red and blue tracksuits were joined by Chinese security guards in providing close security cover and flanked the runners who passed on the flame after running a few metres.

The torch for the parallel relay by Tibetans was lit at Rajghat after an inter-religion prayer meeting.

The protesters, who took part in the rally, carried Tibetan flags, placards and banners with messages such as "Azad Tibet, Surakshit Bharat" and "Free Tibet".

Among the participants in the rally were a large number of monks attired in traditional red robes, women and children.

They were supported by prominent personalities like George Fernandes, Ramdas Athavale, Jaya Jaitley, Kirti Azad, Swami Agnivesh, Sudheendra Kulkarni and Nafisa Ali.

Additional Reportage: PTI

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