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Olympic lighting ceremony fuels protests

Greek officials passed the Olympic flame to Beijing Olympic organizers in Athens on Sunday. The flame will be carried to countries around the world before ending in Beijing for the Aug. 8 start of the Summer Olympic Games.

According to the official Olympic Games Web site, the spirit of the competition is to “bring people together in peace to respect universal moral principles.�

Protests, however, disrupted the Athens ceremony—calling the weight and validity of that message into question. According to The New York Times, demonstrators angered by China’s treatment of Tibet sought to disrupt the ceremonies, despite expansive security measures.

With banners that said, “Stop Genocide in Tibet,� and shouting, “Free Tibet,� demonstrators tried to block the runner carrying the Olympic flame from completing the run in an Athens stadium, The New York Times said. Demonstrators also interrupted Beijing Olympic organizer Liu Qi’s speech during the lighting ceremony, said the Guardian.

Athens police detained ten of the estimated 15 protesters. Athens had sent more than 1,000 police to the flame route to thwart any demonstration attempts.

The protests prompted by the lighting ceremony are only a small piece of an anti-Beijing Olympic movement.

According to the LA Times, the summer games have given activists a forum to demand an end of China’s support of the Sudanese government, the perpetrator of the genocide in Darfur; and religious freedom and an end to violence in Burma and Tibet.

Hollywood figures like Mia Farrow, Steven Spielberg, and George Clooney have been at the forefront of the Beijing Games pressure, said the LA Times.

Spielberg announced he would no longer be the artistic adviser for the games. Clooney, who has been working to end the genocide in Darfur for several years, has tried to pressure Omega, a Swiss watchmaker company which Clooney is the spokesperson for, to ends its sponsorship of the Olympics.

Farrow wants a boycott of the opening ceremonies to pressure China to end ties with Sudan. She wants the world to instead watch her broadcast via Internet of the “deplorable conditions� of a refugee camp on the Sudan and Chad border, reported the LA Times.

The movement seems to be spreading. French President Nicholas Sorkozy has said the Chinese government must be pressured, specifically in regards to Tibet.

According to the Guardian, before the Olympic flames will reach Beijing in August, it must travel through London, Paris and San Francisco—where the most protests are expected.