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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 June, 2004, 23:35 GMT 00:35 UK
Olympic torch leaves Greece
by Richard Galpin
BBC correspondent in Athens

The Olympic flame beside Gianna Angelopoulos, head of the Athens Olympic Committee
Ms Angelopoulos gave a speech at Athens airport before the flame left
The Olympic flame left Greece late on Wednesday at the start of a unique torch relay around the world.

It signalled the final countdown to the Athens Olympics, which begins in little more than two months time.

The flame is being carried on board a jumbo jet to all five continents including, for the first time, cities in Africa and Latin America.

It was carried in a special lantern across the tarmac at Athens airport, to the strains of the Olympic anthem.

The flame arrives on Friday in the Australian city of Sydney, which hosted the last Olympics four years ago.

Here, the 400-metres champion Cathy Freeman will become the first of thousands of torch-bearers who will carry the Olympic flame around the globe over the next five weeks.

'Spreading the message'

In total, the flame will be taken to almost 30 countries.

Head of the Athens Olympic Organising Committee, Gianna Angelopoulos, said the flame would spread the message of the Athens Olympics around the globe.

She said the games would be unique and held in the finest venues.

After months of negative publicity about delays in the building of many venues, the organisers now hope they have turned the corner and the focus will switch to the sports competition itself.

In a statement, president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, said the global torch relay would remind the world of the universal Olympic ideal of unity.



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The BBC's Richard Galpin reports from Athens
"The flame is being sent around the world"



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