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Delhi leg of Olympic torch relay, a smooth affair
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April 17, 2008 20:12 IST

Guarded by about 17,000 security personnel, the Beijing [Images] Olympic torch was taken through a 2.3 km stretch in the national Capital without any disruption on Thursday amid anti-China protests by Tibetans in some parts of the country.

The majestic Rajpath witnessed unprecedented security for a symbolic event which was smooth and incident free.

The Prime Minister's office and Ministries of Defence, External Affairs and Finance lining the torch route from Rashtrapati Bhavan [Images] remained closed for five hours.

The run lasting for about 40 minutes was truncated from nine km in contrast to the 31-km relay four years back when the Athens Olympic flame passed through the Capital and was witnessed by thousands of people with gusto.

Nearly 70 participants in the relay were guided by Chinese security guards in blue and white tracksuits while crack Delhi police commandos wearing a red and white sportsgear ran alongside.

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 (IOA) president Suresh Kalmadi after it was lit by vice-chairman of Beijing Olympics [Images] 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 the celebrites including sportsmen, film stars and politicians taking short runs culminating at the India Gate.

The Delhi run saw ace tennis duo of Leander Paes [Images] and Mahesh Bhupathi [Images], 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.

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

The tinsel industry was represented by Aamir Khan [Images] and Saif Ali Khan. Adding glamour to the run, Bollywood actress Sagarika Ghatge of Chak De India fame made a brief appearance.

In the Capital, 60 Tibetans were detained as they attempted to block roads and clashed with police.

Barring a few school children and special invitees, the event was kept out of bounds for public. All the roads leading 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 [Images], 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 [Images], to Jantar Mantar, which has been the epicentre of Tibetan protests over the past several days.

In Mumbai, 45 Tibetans including nine women were detained after they attempted to hold a protest rally near the Chinese Consulate located in Nariman Point, police said. Tibetans also took out a procession in Bangalore.

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