Activists unfurl Tibet flag at Beijing Olympics flame ceremony

Olympia (Greece) (AFP) –


Activists unfurled a Tibetan flag and a banner that said "no genocide" at the flame-lighting ceremony for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in Greece on Monday.

The demonstrators produced the flag and the banner following the ceremony in Olympia attended by International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.

Security guards forced the demonstrators, who were standing in the ruins of the site of the Ancient Olympics, to take down the flag and the banner and detained the activists.

The incident, which came a day after Tibet activists staged a demonstration at the Acropolis in Athens calling for a boycott of next year's Games, shows the potential protests that the first Olympics in China since 2008 face.

Tibet has alternated over the centuries between independence and control by China, which says it "peacefully liberated" the rugged plateau in 1951 and brought infrastructure and education to the previously underdeveloped region.

But many exiled Tibetans accuse the Chinese central government of religious repression and eroding their culture.

The Olympic flame was lit in a ceremony in the ruins of the Temple of Hera in Olympia
The Olympic flame was lit in a ceremony in the ruins of the Temple of Hera in Olympia ARIS MESSINIS AFP

Following tradition, the Olympic flame was lit from the rays of the sun in the ruins of the ancient Temple of Hera, the cradle of the Ancient Games.

"In these difficult times we are still living through, the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 will be an important moment to bring the world together in a spirit of peace, friendship and solidarity," Bach said in a speech before the demonstrators produced the flag.

Due to coronavirus restrictions, the ceremony was held in front of an audience limited to the members of the International Olympic Committee, the Greek and Chinese Olympic committees, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and vaccinated members of the media.

In a break with tradition, there will be no torch relay on Greek soil.

Instead, the flame is due to be carried to the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, a second-century arena used in both the 1896 and 2004 Games, and on Tuesday it will be handed over to the delegation from Beijing 2022 to be flown to China.