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UPDATED: March 25, 2008  
Beijing Olympic Flame Lit in Ancient Olympia
The Beijing Olympic flame was ignited in a traditional sun-ray ceremony at 11:45 (local time) on Monday

The Beijing Olympic flame was ignited in a traditional sun-ray ceremony at 11:45 (local time) on Monday in front of the Hera Temple of ancient Olympia.

Dark clouds over the lighting rehearsal parted as a flawless torch lighting ceremony was held to start an unprecedented torch relay in Greece, across five continents and China.

Athens Olympic champion swimmer Luo Xuejuan of China took the Olympic torch from Greek taekwondo athlete Alexandros Nikolaidis in ancient Olympia on Monday

The High Priestess Maria Nafpliotou lit the flame out of a concave mirror. Then the flame was carried in a replica of ancient urn to the ancient Olympia stadium where it was to kindle the first Olympic torch.

The Olympic Anthem, the National Anthem of the People's Republic of China, the National Anthem of Greece were played and the Olympic Flag, the Chinese Flag and the Greek Flag were hoisted at the lighting ceremony.

Speeches were given by the mayor of ancient Olympia Georgios Aidonis, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee Minos Kyriakou and Liu Qi, President of the Beijing Organizing Committee of Olympic Games (BOCOG).

"Today will lead to the opening of the first ever Olympic Games in China, where one fifth of the world's population is longing for them," said Rogge.

"By crossing five continents and visiting 21 cities throughout the world, and more than 100 cities in mainland China, the 2008 Olympic torch relay prepares the way to Beijing.

"The messengers will be citizens, young or old, able or disabled, athletes and members of the Olympic Movement, who are all eager to promote what each one of us can contribute to a better world."

The Olympic flame will be handed over to BOCOG at 3 PM March 30 at Panathenian Stadium in Athens.

In Greece, the sacred flame will pass through 16 prefectures, 43 municipalities, 12 municipal districts and four communities in the hands of 605 torchbearers. En route, a total of 29 ceremonies will be held to celebrate the flame.

The torch will be carried over the island for six days, staying overnight in Mesologi, Ioannina, Vera, Thessaloniki, and Lamia, before it reaches Athens.

The Olympic flame is to arrive in Beijing on March 31. A welcome ceremony will be held at Tian'anmen Square, the heart of the Olympic host city.

(China.org.cn, Xinhua News Agency March 24, 2008)

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