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Page last updated at 13:01 GMT, Monday, 31 March 2008 14:01 UK

Chinese struggle to see Olympic event

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Chinese onlookers who could not get in, trying to get a glimpse at what was going on
Many Beijing citizens had turned up in hope of seeing the ceremony

Ordinary people were kept well away from the Olympic torch as it arrived on Chinese soil for the first time.

Only a few thousand handpicked guests were invited to take part in the ceremony held in the gigantic Tiananmen Square.

Earlier there had been no opportunity to see the flame travel from the airport to central Beijing - it was transported inside a minivan.

Demonstrators have threatened to disrupt the 130-day torch relay in protest at China's crackdown on dissent in Tibet, among other issues, and activists held a protest last week at the original torch-lighting ceremony in Greece.

In what was presumably an attempt to thwart these campaigners, the torch's arrival in China was a highly controlled event.

The tight security succeeded in preventing embarrassing protests, but it also disappointed many Beijing residents, who had hoped to see the torch with their own eyes.

'Once in a lifetime'

Sun Xinglong was just one of scores of ordinary people who gathered at the bottom of Tiananmen Square hoping to see the torch re-lighting ceremony.

Hu Jintao holding the torch at the ceremony
Hu Jintao presided over the tightly controlled event

He had journeyed into the capital on Sunday evening from his home in the suburbs, so he could guarantee that he arrived in central Beijing in time.

"I came because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said.

But, like others who had arrived without a special invitation, Mr Sun was not allowed on to the square, which was completely sealed off by police.

An elderly woman standing nearby also expressed her frustration as she scanned Tiananmen Square, hoping to glimpse the celebrations.

"I travelled especially to see this," said the woman, who declined to give her name.

"I feel very let-down. Do you know how I can get in?"

Despite not being allowed to watch the re-lighting ceremony, most people seemed pleased to just be near the big event.

They clung to lamp-posts and stood on ledges to get a look at the ceremony's performers as they trooped back to their buses when the event was over.

"I couldn't really see anything, but I could hear what was happening," said another Beijing resident who had come to watch.

Tight security

Some ordinary citizens had been allowed into the square, but only as part of well-screened groups who were involved in the celebrations.

Students from Beijing Materials University had to pass an English test and an interview before being allowed on to the square.

Their job was to release balloons into the air when the torch was re-lit, in a ceremony presided over by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

A troop of elderly models - most of them in their 70s - had also been specially chosen for the event.

They had to be "intellectual as well as elegant", said the leader of the group, whose members wore traditional Chinese clothes.

Chinese officials said "ordinary representatives from all walks of life" had taken part in the re-lighting ceremony.

But the empty streets and closed shops on either side of Tiananmen Square - security personnel were the only people around - suggested otherwise.

Side roads leading to the square were also blocked off and police checked ID papers of people walking anywhere near the square.

Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organising committee, said the public would not be allowed access to the torch as it is currently being held in the organising committee's headquarters.

The torch stays in the Chinese capital for just one day before beginning a 137,000-km (85,000-mile) global journey in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday.

Chinese people will have plenty of chance to see the torch when it returns to the mainland on 4 May, said Mr Sun.


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SEE ALSO
Beijing welcomes Olympic torch
31 Mar 08 |  Asia-Pacific

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