Security concerns remain as Olympics get up and running
THE Beijing Olympics open today amid continuing concerns over security, the host's human rights record and pollution.
Over the next 16 days, more than 10,500 of the best international athletes will compete for the 302 gold medals up for grabs across 28 sports.
The Games of the 29th Olympiad, being held in China for the first time, were set to launch at 8.08pm local time (1.08pm BST) on the eighth day of the eighth month of the year with a spectacular fireworks display.
Among those attending will be British Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell, who today said she hoped the global scrutiny of China during the Beijing games will lead to lasting improvements in human rights.
The build-up has been dominated by controversy over claims of oppression by the Beijing regime and a series of protests around the world.
The Games slogan of One World, One Dream is intended to capture China's aspirations to open its doors to the world and leave a lasting legacy for their population of 1.3 billion people.
But while the communist country's economy has made huge strides thanks to its manufacturing industry, the country continues to suffer from poverty in rural areas, high levels of pollution and criticism of its human rights record.
Protests during the torch relay and critical words by world leaders, such as US president George Bush, have characterised the build-up.
Two British Free Tibet campaigners, including Edinburgh student Iain Thom, returned to the UK yesterday after being arrested for unfurling flags and banners outside the Beijing stadium.
And today a Briton was held after unfurling banners condemning China's human rights record on a major bridge in Hong Kong.
Other protesters critical of China's human rights record were expected to demonstrate later in the day near the venue of the Olympic equestrian event in Hong Kong.
Also today an Air China flight from central Japan was turned back after the airline received a bomb threat in an email that also said the Beijing Olympic Games site would be attacked.
The flight landed safely at Central Japan International Airport at around 7am GMT.
More than 40 Olympic athletes have signed an open letter to Chinese president Hu Jintao condemning the country's human rights record.
Backed by Amnesty International in Germany, the letter calls on Hu "to protect freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of opinion in your country, including Tibet".
More protests are planned during the Games, including one at the Chinese Embassy in London today.
With environmental concerns also high on the international agenda, China has come under fire for its pollution problems.
But the head of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, yesterday praised Beijing's efforts.
In an attempt to improve the atmosphere, heavily-polluting factories have suspended operations while cars are being banned on alternate days.
With the contest opened the nation's eyes may now switch to the British sporting stars as they go for gold.
Team GB consists of more than 300 British competitors who are hoping their performances give them a solid footing for success at the 2012 Games in London.
UK Sport has set its sights on 41 medals to achieve an overall target of eighth place in the medal table. But British medal hopes suffered a setback with the late withdrawal of boxer Frankie Gavin.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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