ANCIENT OLYMPIA. Greece (AP) – Three activists protesting against human rights abuses in China stormed the archaeological site where the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics fire ceremony was taking place on Monday, and ran towards the newly lit torch carrying the Tibetan flag and the inscription “No games about genocide.”
The protesters climbed over the fence to enter the grounds and tried to get to the Hera temple, where the ceremony was taking place. The police threw them to the ground and detained them.
“How can Beijing be allowed to host the Olympic Games, given that they are committing genocide against the Uyghurs?” One protester said referring to the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China’s northwest Xinjiang region.
The fire was lit at the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games in southern Greece, under heavy police protection.
With the public excluded due to security measures due to the pandemic and cloudless skies over the verdant stretch of Ancient Olympia, the flames were solemnly lit by the sun’s rays before being carried away with a mini torch relay.
Earlier, other protesters were detained by the Greek police before they could reach the scene. Democracy protests also erupted during a fire lighting ceremony ahead of the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.
Despite widespread international criticism of the human rights situation in China, the International Olympic Committee shies away from the issue, claiming that it does not fall within its purview.
In a speech at the ancient stadium of Olympia, where male athletes competed naked in ancient times during a special truce between their often warring cities, IOC President Thomas Bach emphasized that the modern Games should be “respected as politically neutral territory.”
“Only this political neutrality guarantees that the Olympic Games can overcome the political divisions that exist in our time,” he said. “The Olympic Games cannot solve all the problems of our world. But they are setting an example of a world in which everyone respects the same rules and each other. “
Tibetan human rights activists said in a press release that China is trying to “sportily wash” its human rights abuses with “the glamor and appearance of respectability that the Olympics bring.”
Beijing will be the first city to host the Winter and Summer Olympics.
Shortly thereafter, in a carefully choreographed performance, a Greek actress playing the role of a pagan priestess knelt to light the Olympic flame, using a bowl-shaped mirror to focus the sun’s rays on a fuel-filled torch.
Standing in front of the few remaining columns of the destroyed 2,600-year-old Temple of Hera, she offered up a symbolic prayer to the ancient Greek god of light Apollo to light the flame.
“The mountains fall silent, the birdsong ceases,” she said as a TV drone buzzed overhead and the rows of photographers clicked shutters.
Shouts of protesters were soon heard.
Yu Zaqing, vice president of the Beijing organizing committee, said the Games brought “confidence, warmth and hope” during the pandemic that first appeared in China.
“We can and will have a rational, safe and great Olympic Games in the world,” he said.
The police were visible in and around the archaeological site, where the ancient Games were held from 776 BC. and over 1000 years until the Christians destroyed them. Everyone who went to the venue had to pass accreditation and go through checkpoints and metal detectors.
On Sunday, two demonstrators were detained on the Acropolis in Athens as they tried to raise a banner to draw attention to human rights abuses in China.
The Olympic flame will be transported to Athens and handed over to organizers in Beijing on Tuesday at the refurbished stadium that hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.
The Winter Games in Beijing will be held from 4 to 20 February. Only mainland Chinese viewers are allowed to participate. It is expected that all participants in the Olympics, including athletes, will be vaccinated or will spend 21 days in quarantine.
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