After a peaceful journey through Oman, the Olympic torch arrived in the Pakistani capital Islamabad amid heavy security on the first stage of its Asian tour.
The Olympic torch, symbol of the 2008 Games in Beijing, touched down in the Pakistani capital Islamabad amid heavy security early Wednesday on the first stop in its Asian leg of a world tour.
The flame arrived from Oman for what Pakistan's pro-China government hopes will be a peaceful relay, free of the protests by Tibet supporters and human rights activists that has marred much of its journey.
Pakistani authorities however drastically slashed the torch's route at the last minute, citing security fears sparked by an unprecedented wave of Al-Qaeda and Taliban suicide bombings in the past year.
The plane carrying the flame arrived at Chaklala military airbase just outside Islamabad and was welcomed by dignitaries gathered on a red carpet including the Chinese ambassador, state television showed live.
A Chinese Olympic official carried the lantern containing the Olympic flame slowly down the steps from the airliner and posed for photographers before entering the terminal building.
"The entire event was re-scheduled due to security threats. We had to re-schedule the programme to ensure full security to the torch relay and its participants," Pakistan Olympic Association chairman Arif Hassan told AFP.
He said that "keeping in view the law and order situation which was experienced in the past one year and the blasts and explosions," Pakistani authorities had chosen the shortest of three possible routes.
Instead of being paraded down Islamabad's leafy main boulevard from the presidential palace and other streets, it will now circulate around the Jinnah sports stadium in the capital, watched by 8,000 handpicked guests.
The ceremony will be attended by President Pervez Musharraf, who on Monday condemned the earlier pro-Tibetan protests on the tour and vowed to maintain security when the flame arrived.
"There is no one in Pakistan, not one man, who would like to do anything against the interests of China," Musharraf told students following a speech at a Beijing university during a visit to China this week.
Pakistan and China are close political, military and commercial allies.
But two militant attacks last year targeted Chinese workers and officials say that some Muslim separatists from China's northwestern Xinjiang region are hiding out in Pakistan's troubled tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
China's hopes of winning international prestige by sending the Olympic torch through 135 cities on five continents ahead of the August 8 opening of the Olympic Games have already been severely dented.
The early stages in London and Paris were overshadowed by demonstrations against Beijing's crackdown on protests in Tibet, and the third stage in San Francisco was also drastically curtailed and seen by relatively few people.
Before Muscat, the legs in Buenos Aires and Dar es Salaam passed off with little incident.
The torch's next stop will be the Indian capital New Delhi on Thursday.
Indian police detained dozens of pro-Tibet demonstrators shouting "We Want Justice, Stop Killing in Tibet" on Tuesday in New Delhi as they carried an "independence torch" along the route planned for the relay.
The protest was organised by the Tibetan Youth Congress, which is campaigning for a boycott of the Olympics in August and has vowed to step up protests across Indian cities ahead of the rally.
Date created : 2008-04-16