Page last updated at 09:32 GMT, Wednesday, 6 August 2008 10:32 UK

Olympic relay in Beijing climax

Torch bearers in Beijing

Cheering, flag-waving crowds in the Chinese capital, Beijing, have been watching the Olympic torch on the final leg of its global relay.

Over three days more than 800 torch bearers will carry the flame to city landmarks ahead of Friday's Games.

One of China's best-known sportsmen, basketball star Yao Ming, carried the torch through Tiananmen Square.

Earlier, four activists from the UK and the US were arrested after unfurling banners close to the Olympic stadium.

The torch has travelled 140,000km (87,000 miles) through six continents since it left Greece on 24 March.

Overseas, the relay was marked by protests over China's human rights record and its policies in Tibet.

On Tuesday, the flame passed through Sichuan province, which was devastated by an earthquake in May.

A minute's silence was held in Guang'an city, honouring almost 70,000 people who were killed in the quake.

The torch had been scheduled to visit Sichuan in mid-June, but the area's relay leg was postponed because of the quake, which left around five million people homeless.


Activist explains the motive behind his protest

Foreigners arrested

Away from the torch relay, other concerns remained ahead of the start of the games.

A haze settled over Beijing on Wednesday the city's air quality continuing to be an issue as the Games neared.

6 August BBC PM10 reading: 186 micrograms per cubic metre
6 August official PM10 reading: 84
WHO recommended level: 50
Levels of particulate matter measured once a day in Beijing by the BBC

However, despite the cloudy skies Beijing officials said air quality remained "fairly good", and experts predicted clear weather for the opening ceremony.

Meanwhile, China's authorities have said they are confident that all athletes and spectators will be safe, after an attack by suspected separatist Islamist militants killed 16 policemen on Monday in the western region of Xinjiang.

A spokesman for the organisers said preparations had been made to protect some 10,500 athletes from 205 countries during the Olympics.

"China has focused on strengthening security and protection around Olympic venues and at the Olympics Village, so Beijing is already prepared to respond to any threat," Beijing Games spokesman Sun Weide was quoted as saying.

Officials in the co-host city of Shanghai say all shops and businesses in the metro stations have now been closed until after the Olympic Games because of public security concerns.

The operator of the underground rail system, Shentong Metro Group, said the move would affect more than 1,000 shops, and even vending machines would be closed. It said it would not provide compensation for business owners.

Meanwhile state media reported that four pro-Tibet activists from Britain and the US had been arrested in Beijing after a brief protest close to the Olympic stadium.

Chinese Olympic basketball star Yao Ming is mobbed by fans after his leg of the relay
Basketball star Yao Ming was mobbed by fans after his run with the torch

Students for a Free Tibet said it was behind the protest, in which members unfurled two large "Free Tibet" banners from electricity poles.

The international leg of the torch's tour earlier this year was marred by protests in several cities - including London, Paris and San Francisco.

Activists demonstrated against China's human-rights record and its handling of violent anti-Beijing protests in March in Tibet.

In other developments:

  • The US has complained that a co-founder of activist group Team Darfur, former Olympian Joey Cheek, had his visa revoked hours before he was due to travel to Beijing
  • Police banned US swimmer Amanda Beard from giving a pro-animal rights news conference inside an Olympic venue - but allowed her to protest in another location

The International Olympic Committee said it believed the Chinese authorities had done everything possible "to ensure the security and safety of everyone at the Games".

The IOC has also assured athletes that the smog which often plagues the city would not pose major health problems.

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