2008 BEIJING OLYMPICS

Olympic torch enjoys trouble-free relay in Oman

3 min

The only threat to torch carriers on Monday was the Gulf's scorching heat, which the organisers avoided by holding the event in the evening. Unlike earlier stages of the relay, this leg was free from protests against Chinese repression in Tibet.

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The Olympic torch was paraded without incident through the Omani capital on Monday on the sole Middle East stage of its journey to Beijing for this summer's games.

The relay ended at 8:30 pm (1730 GMT) after being passed from runner to runner for three and a half hours and being cheered by onlookers.

The event began at 5:00 pm after the heat of the day had eased. Even in April, daytime temperatures in the sultanate can reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

Liu Ging Min of the Olympic organising committee handed the flame to the governor of Muscat, state minister Sayed al-Motassem bin Hmud al-Busaidi, to begin the parade.

Local football club director Sayed Shehab ben Tarek then began the relay through the streets of Muscat, applauded at the start by around 400 people, including about 100 Chinese.

Security was low key and a lone helicopter monitored the 20-kilometre (12-mile) route as the torch was passed between some 80 athletes who carried the flame in relay.

Children lined part of the route, waving small Olympic and Omani flags.

The Muscat parade was an incident-free stop for the torch which has been dogged by human rights protests on most of its stages so far.

Sayed Fatik bin Fahar, a member of the Al-Busaid dynasty which has ruled the sultanate for centuries, told AFP: "This is a great honour. This is a great event. It is not strange that Oman hosts such an event given the security that it enjoys."

Demonstrations are rare in the sultanate, which borders Saudi Arabia, and the ruling family does not allow political parties.

"We do not expect any problems. Everything is under control," Murtada al-Ajmi, a member of the Oman Olympic Committee, said before Monday's relay.

"Everyone is happy. It took a lot to prepare for this but at least we see that everyone is excited," he added.

Earlier the torch was greeted in Muscat on its arrival from Tanzania, at a low-key ceremony attended by Sports Minister Ali bin Massoud bin Ali al-Sunaidi and representatives of the Chinese diplomatic mission.

"A warm welcome to the Olympic torch," said a red banner unfurled by the reception party.

Oman enjoys good relations with China, a major destination for Omani oil exports, and Chinese companies are working on several major infrastructure projects in the sultanate, including a 130-million-dollar highway.

Most people in Oman appeared indifferent to the Olympic torch relay taking place in their country for the first time, with many local newspapers confining their reports to the sports pages.

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 repression of 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, however.

The torch will leave Muscat early on Tuesday for its next stop, the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

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