Olympic Torch Relit, Stirs Protest

BEIJING -- Chinese President Hu Jintao presided over the relighting of the Olympic torch Monday in the host city, Beijing, signaling the start of an around-the-world torch relay that already has become a magnet for protesters.

Hu's participation in the elaborate ceremony in Tiananmen Square in the heart of the capital underlined the importance China places on the Olympics and its hope to display a confident, strong nation to the world when the games open Aug. 8.

The ceremony 130 days before the start of the Olympics was broadcast on state television and came a week after the lighting ceremony for the Olympic torch in Greece was disturbed by protests.

"I declare the torch relay of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games has begun," Hu said after handing the flame to China's Olympic gold-medal hurdler, Liu Xiang. Liu jogged off the square as blue, gold and silver confetti flew, Chinese and Olympic flags waved and traditional drums pounded.

After a one-day stop in Beijing, the flame goes Tuesday to Almaty, Kazakhstan, the start of a month long, 21-city global journey. It returns May 4 to mainland China, continuing to over 100 cites before returning to Beijing, ending a 137,000-kilometer journey.

The grandiose relay is the longest in Olympic history, an event China hopes will showcase its rise as a global economic and political power.

So far, the event has evinced protests against China over a range of issues, including its handling of Muslims in western China, its policies in Tibet and its relationship with Sudan.

While stops in Almaty, Istanbul, Turkey, and St. Petersburg, Russia, are not expected to produce trouble, London, Paris and San Francisco could see some disturbances with Tibetan and rights groups promising protests.

Carried in a small lantern, the flame arrived from Greece early Monday aboard a chartered Air China plane and was greeted at the Beijing airport by hundreds of flag-waving schoolchildren.

Amid tight security, police and paramilitary officers were stationed on overpasses, bridges and entry ramps along the flame's route into the city.