Runners carry Olympic flame in New Delhi amid heavy security

Runners carry Olympic flame in New Delhi amid heavy security

Thursday, April 17th 2008, 9:38 AM

NEW DELHI - Runners carried the Olympic flame Thursday along a heavily guarded route through central New Delhi, protected by about 15,000 police who kept Tibetan exiles and other anti-China protesters from disrupting the ceremony.

Much of New Delhi's leafy British colonial-era center _ where the presidential palace, Parliament and government ministries are located _ was sealed off to traffic and pedestrians in some of the tightest security ever seen in the capital.

India is home to the world's largest Tibetan exile community, and thousands held a peaceful mock torch relay earlier Thursday elsewhere in New Delhi to draw attention to the Chinese crackdown in Tibet. Protests were also held in other Indian cities, including Mumbai, where 25 people who tried to storm the Chinese consulate were detained.

To avoid the chaos that has marked the torch runs in London, Paris and San Francisco, Indian authorities cut the relay route to less than two miles. That meant each of the 70 runners in the relay could jog with the flame for only a few seconds before handing it to the next person.

The torchbearers were surrounded by rings of jogging security forces _ first Chinese forces in blue tracksuits and then Indians in red ones _ as they ran from the presidential palace to the historic India Gate monument, where an Olympic cauldron was lit. Several buses of police followed the runners, who included tennis star Leander Paes.

The public was allowed nowhere near the relay, and crowds amounted to just several hundred young people sitting on bleachers wearing T-shirts of an Olympic sponsor, Coca-Cola, and several hundred members of India's Chinese community.

Shortly after the Olympic flame was flown to New Delhi early Thursday from its last stop in Pakistan, some two dozen Tibetan exiles chanted anti-China slogans and protested along a busy highway to the airport. Several of the protesters were detained by police.

Thousands of Tibetans took part in their own torch run to highlight the Tibetan struggle. That run began with a Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh prayer session at the site where Indian pacifist icon Mohandas Gandhi was cremated. The torch was then lighted and Tibetans put on a show of traditional dancing.

Several dozen prominent Indians, including former Defense Minster George Fernandez, joined the Tibetans, marched without incident.

Public sympathy in India lies with the Tibetans, who have sought refuge in the country since the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader, fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Beijing in 1959, setting up his government-in-exile in the northern town of Dharmsala.

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