NEWS

Security is tightened for Olympic Torch ceremony

The final rehearsal for the Beijing 2008 Olympics torch-lighting ceremony took place in Olympia, southwestern Greece, yesterday amid concerns over possible protests in favor of an independent Tibet. Hazy skies that persisted to the last minute prevented organizers from lighting the Games’ sacred flame through use of a polished mirror. A flame lit during a prior rehearsal on Saturday was used instead. Actresses dressed as ancient Greek priestesses performed a choreographed ceremony, which for the first time included six young boys acting out events from the ancient pentathlon. Actress Maria Nafpliotou then lit the Beijing Games torch carried by the first relay runner, Greek tae kwon do athlete Alexandros Nikolaidis, a silver medalist in the Athens 2004 Games. The official ceremony will be held today but the forecast of heavy rain has forced organizers to schedule the ritual an hour earlier to 11 a.m. «We hope the weather is good tomorrow,» Culture Minister Michalis Liapis said. Hundreds of police and plainclothes officers have secured the ancient site and the town for fear of Tibetan protesters who some weeks ago lit their own «Freedom torch» in Olympia to campaign for a free Tibet, angering Beijing. The government has said it will take all measures to protect the ceremony and its «international appeal.» The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is under growing criticism as the Games approach from both human rights groups and some politicians calling for the it to pressure China into improving human rights. Some have called for a Games boycott.