Beijing (AsiaNews) – After a wait of months the Olympic flame was lit today in Beijing the main events city of the Games. Over the next three days it will pass through the streets of the capital but city residents have been invited to remain in their homes to avoid security issues.
At 8 am this morning, in the historic setting of the Forbidden City, Beijing's Communist Party secretary, Liu Qi, handed over the torch to Chinese astronaut, Yang Liwei, the first national to go into space. He was followed by another famous Chinese, basketball champion Yao Ming, who took up the torch and crossed the threshold of Tiananmen Square. Over 841 torch bearers will carry the Olympic flame, each travelling between 100 – 200 metres, along the great city monuments until the lighting of the Olympic flame in the opening ceremony. Today’s’ route will come to an end in Sky Temple, in a southern district of the city.
But what characterises the Beijing route is the mass of security barriers. Torch bearers are surrounded by dozens of guards in white and blue, who became infamously linked to the international leg of the journey after clashes with pro-Tibet activists. In the early morning a group of activists succeeded in raising a banner demanding freedom for Tibet before they were arrested by police.
Hours ahead of the ceremony in the Forbidden City, security officers combed the area, set up the barriers and reduced the number of participants. Curiously, Beijing residents are being invited to stay at home and to follow the route of the Olympic flame on their TV’s to avoid security problems.
Beyond the omnipresence of armed soldiers on the streets and squares, there are also security checks in subway stations: all bags are subjected to metal-detectors; bridges and galleries are patrolled by “Olympic volunteers”, in short civil guards. Checks are equally strict for those travelling by bus.
Torch bearers who have been interviewed have all expressed their emotions regarding this “great event”. Director of the opening ceremony and one of the first to bear the torch today, Zhang Yimou, spoke of the “meaning” of the Olympics. No one is talking about its contents. The slogans being shouted out by groups along the route speak more clearly: “A great Olympics, a great China”; the Games are being seen as a window of opportunity to soften foreign guests and make them understand how efficient, modern and powerful China has become. At least 80 international leaders will attend the opening ceremony. Among them Gorge W. Bush, Nicholas Sarkozy, Emperor Akihito, etc… Their presence is the first real “Olympic victory” for Beijing, which feared a boycott in the wake of the Tibet repression.
The possible benefits of the Olympics for the Chinese people and Beijing’s residents have yet to be seen. Yesterday dozens of city dwellers tried to hold a demonstration in Tiananmen Square against the expropriation of the homes without any compensation. They were immediately dispersed by police. Together with them a further one and a half million Beijing residents await justice, after their lands and homes were requisitioned to make way for the spectacular Olympic constructions.