/ 11 April 2008

Guarded Olympic torch to blaze through Buenos Aires

Argentine police mobilised on Friday to guard the Olympic torch through Buenos Aires, bracing for protests against the human rights record of Olympic Games host China.

The torch arrived in Argentina on Thursday to little fanfare. It will be carried past the country’s pink presidential palace and along the city’s broad avenues.

Argentine activists opposed to China’s rule of Tibet promised to carry out non-violent ”surprise actions” during the day, but said they would not try to snuff out the flame as protesters in London and Paris did.

About 1 500 coast-guard officers, 1 200 police and 3 000 city workers were to stand guard as Argentine athletes and personalities carried the torch.

Soccer legend Diego Maradona was invited to kick off the procession, but it was unclear if he would participate.

The relay was scheduled to begin at 5.15pm GMT in Buenos Aires. After Argentina, the torch heads to Tanzania, where Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai announced she had pulled out of the relay.

Calls have intensified for world leaders to boycott the opening ceremony of the Games in August.

The European Parliament urged European Union leaders on Thursday to boycott the ceremony unless China starts talks with Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

United States President George Bush has also faced calls from Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to skip the event. Bush says he plans to attend, but has urged China to talk with the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will not attend the opening ceremony due to a scheduling conflict, a spokesperson said.

Beijing hopes that hosting the Olympic Games will highlight its growing role on the world stage, and has fiercely condemned the protests, blaming the Dalai Lama and his followers.

China’s police said on Thursday they had foiled plots to kidnap foreigners and carry out suicide attacks during the Games. They detained 45 suspects and seized explosives and firearms. — Reuters