The countdown for the Athens Paralympic Games begins today with the lighting of the flame that will weave its way across Attica in a relay culminating at the Olympic Stadium on September 17, the day the Games begin. Traffic restrictions will be in place in the heart of Athens for the flame lighting from 2 p.m. onward. The flame will spend tonight at the ancient Herod Atticus Theater. Meanwhile, sales of tickets for the Paralympics are picking up speed by the day, as spectators appear determined to relive the excitement of the Olympic Games that were held from August 13-29. More than 180,000 tickets have already been sold, and tickets for the opening ceremony and some of the most popular events are nearly exhausted. The flame will be lit at 6.45 p.m. this afternoon by rubbing two stones together at the temple of Hephaestus in Athens’s Thiseion district, in a reference to the ancient Greek god of fire who was described in myths as having a limp. The Rhoes dance theater, the Avaton group and state broadcaster ERT’s choir will take part in the flame-lighting ceremony. From there, the flame will begin a relay during which it will be pass through 54 municipalities and archaeological sites in the region of Attica. It will be carried over 410 kilometers (255 miles) by 680 torchbearers. Some 4,000 athletes from around the world will compete in 19 disciplines, 15 of which are Olympic disciplines. The Games end on September 28. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday took part in a celebratory meeting of the Olympic Security Coordination Council that oversaw Olympic security and thanked all the security personnel and agencies involved in the successful preparations for the Games. He noted that the celebration of sports and culture will be complete when the Paralympics are carried out in a secure environment. From 2 p.m. and until the end of the day’s relay, cars will be banned from parking or stopping on the streets that are on the relay’s course between the temple of Hephaestus and the Herod Atticus Theater. Though the two sites are close and are joined by the Apostolou Pavlou pedestrian walkway, the relay will carry the torch via the longer route through central Athens and the Plaka district. From 5 p.m. until the end of the flame-lighting ceremony, traffic will be banned on Ermou Street between Athinas Street and Asomaton Square, on Athinas Street between Evripidou and Ermou, and on Mitropoleos and Filellinon (between Mitropoleos and Xenofontos streets). From 6.30 p.m. until 9 p.m., traffic will be stopped along the relay route, depending on where the torch is. There are two kinds of tickets for the Paralympics: specific ones, with numbered seats, and day passes (costing 10 euros) which allow holders to enter venues if there is space, on a first-come-first-served basis. Only those with tickets for specific seats and events will be allowed to travel on public transport for free on their way to and from the Games. «At this moment, some 11,000 to 11,500 tickets are being sold daily. In the last week alone, 40,000 tickets for the opening ceremony were sold and most of the tickets for specific seats have been sold,» Stefanos Kakaratsas, who is charge of Athens 2004’s ticket service, told Kathimerini. «In all, more than 180,000 tickets have been sold, of which 100,000 are day tickets. I estimate that demand will peak next week,» he said. The Education Ministry has bought 40,000 day tickets and many schools are showing interest in buying tickets.