- Title: KAZAKHSTAN: Kazakhstan greets Olympic flame amid tight security
- Date: 3rd April 2008
- Summary: SPECTATORS ALONG ROUTE
- Embargoed: 18th April 2008 13:00
- Location: Kazakhstan
- Country: Kazakhstan
- Topics: Sports
- Reuters ID: LVA9G5ZUFWMTBQ6XLQJL9LH7AXSU
- Aspect Ratio:
- Story Text: Kazakhstan greets Olympic flame as first country after the flame left China.
Kazakhstan's biggest city, Almaty, is the first official stop in the international leg of the 130-day Olympic torch relay, likely to be a magnet for anti-China protests ahead of the August games in Beijing.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev began a series of short symbolic relays on Wednesday (April 2) by some eighty famous Kazakh athletes.
Thousands of spectators lined the streets as the torch made its way to the centre of the Soviet-built city.
The ceremony culminated when a Kazakh athlete on horseback galloped through a central square holding the blazing torch high above his head, followed by a caravan of camels, horses and wagons full of cheerleaders.
Oil-rich Kazakhstan sees the flame's arrival in Almaty as a moment of national pride as it seeks to raise its global profile and gain weight as a regional player.
Although protests are rare in the former Soviet nation, security was high after activists around the world pledged to use the global torch run to express concern over China's human rights record and violence in Tibet.
At last week's flame-lighting ceremony in Greece, activists unfurled banners condemning China's actions. On Sunday, protesters tried to block the flame's handover to Beijing officials.
Itself subject to Western criticism over its often patchy human rights record, Kazakhstan has deployed 4,500 police and plainclothes agents to patrol the streets of Almaty.
Some of its streets, festooned with flags and Olympic posters, were condoned off entirely, creating long traffic jams on the outskirts and confusion among local residents.
The flame's next stop after Almaty is Istanbul. It is due to return to Beijing on Aug. 6 after travelling throughout China, two days before it is used to light the cauldron at the Olympic opening ceremony.
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