Olympic torch breezes untroubled through Africa

The Olympic torch ended an uneventful relay in the Tanzanian capital Dar Es Salaam for its unique African stopover. Though no pro-Tibet plans had been announced, the relay was shortened from 25 km down to just five.


The Olympic torch Sunday ended a  shortened but trouble-free relay in the Tanzanian capital Dar Es Salaam, the sole African leg of the flame's journey to Beijing.

The five-kilometre-relay, which took place amid heavy downpour in this Indian Ocean city, ended at the Chinese-built National Stadium without any incident or breach of security.

While no pro-Tibet rallies had been planned, the original 25-kilometre (15-mile) torch relay was scaled down to a two-hour, five-kilometre (three-mile) trail.

The relay ended at about 3:00 pm (1200 GMT) after some 80 runners passed the flame under pouring rain. Police ringed the route and a helicopter followed its journey.

Tanzanian Vice President Mohamed Shein lit the torch at the start of the relay, and said: "I am excited that Tanzania is only country out of 53 African nations to host the relay.

"Tanzania unreservedly supports the Beijing Olympics," he said. "It is the occasion of a lifetime."

But Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai pulled out of the relay, citing China's role in conflict and human rights violations in Tibet, Myanmar and the Sudanese region of Darfur for her no-show.

"I have decided to show solidarity with other people on the issues of human rights in Sudan's Darfur region, Tibet and Burma," Maathai said.

Defending worldwide protests over Tibet, Maathai said: "They are having an impact. That is why we are hearing about them. I hope the world and China will hear their voice."

However, United Nations Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-HABITAT Anna Tibaijuka, who was the last to carry the torch in the Dar Es Salaam relay, was upbeat about the event.

"I am very proud that Tanzania is celebrating this moment. We have been given a great honor," she said.

"This is a moment of solidarity for Tanzania, Africa and the world in the spirit of the Olympics," she added.

Tanzania, long a socialist country with close ties to the eastern Communist bloc, enjoys excellent relations with China since diplomatic ties were established in 1964.

The Asian giant, which has an aggressive economic policy on the mineral-rich continent, is a major investor in the east African nation's fledgling economy.

Bilateral trade stood at 794 million dollars (500 million euros) in 2007, close to a 50 percent increase from the previous year.

President Jakaya Kikwete is currently on a four-day state visit to China and the flame was met at the airport by Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda late Saturday. It will then be flown Oman less than 24 hours later.

However China's hopes of winning international prestige by sending the torch through 135 cities on five continents ahead of the August 8 opening of the Olympic Games have already been damaged.

The early stages in London and Paris were overshadowed by demonstrations against Beijing's repression of protests in Tibet, and the third stage in San Francisco was also drastically curtailed and seen by relatively few people.

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