Weather, protest cloud Beijing flame-lighting rehearsal in Ancient Olympia

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A sunburst at the overcast birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece was too short-lived to light the backup flame for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at Sunday’s dress rehearsal.

It was the second blip of the day, after two protesters were detained on the Acropolis in Athens trying to raise a banner to draw attention to human-rights abuses in China.

There has been widespread international criticism of China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the northwest region of Xinjiang, as well as its crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong and its policies toward Tibet and Taiwan.

A sunburst at the overcast birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece was too short-lived to light the backup flame. Photo: Reuters / Alkis Konstantinidis.

But the International Olympic Committee has shied away from the issue, saying it’s out of its remit.

The question of the weather over Olympia is simpler. Greek organisers have another backup flame lit in advance if the traditional way, using a bowl-shaped mirror to focus the sun’s rays on a torch, fails again due to clouds disrupting the ceremony on Monday.

Health measures for the second pandemic flame-lighting at Ancient Olympia, in the southern Peloponnese region, mean that much of the normal pageantry is being trimmed back. There will be no spectators on Monday, and only three runners will take part in a symbolic relay that would normally have lasted days.

Skier Ioannis Antoniou, the first torch bearer, holds an olive branch during the final rehearsal for the lighting of the Olympic flame at Ancient Olympia site. Photo: AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis.

The flame will be taken to Athens and handed over to Beijing organisers on Tuesday at the renovated ancient stadium where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.

Protest at the Acropolis:

Earlier Sunday, two activists attempted to hang a banner from the scaffolding on the Acropolis before being detained. Human rights activists had also staged protests during the flame-lighting ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, and disrupted the international torch relay.

Protesters shout slogans as they climb on scaffolding at the Acropolis hill, in Athens, Greece, Sunday, October 17, 2021. Photo: AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis.

The women, 18-year-old Tibetan student, Tsela Zoksang, and 22-year-old exiled Hong Kong activist, Joey Siu, both American citizens, are members of the “No Beijing 2022” campaign, the New York-based organisation Students for a Free Tibet said.

A security officer took the banner away, but the activists remained on the scaffolding and deployed a Tibetan flag and a smaller banner proclaiming, “Free Hong Kong Revolution.” They also chanted slogans including “Free Tibet,” “Boycott Beijing 2022” and “No freedom, no Games,” before police arrived and detained them.

Protests are not allowed on the Acropolis — which has not stopped several from being held over the years by groups ranging from Communist unionists to soccer fans.

The Beijing Winter Games will run from February 4-20. Only spectators from mainland China will be allowed to attend. Everyone at the Olympics — including athletes — will be expected to be vaccinated, or else have to spend 21 days in quarantine.

The Paralympics are set to follow from March 4-13.

Source: AP News.

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