14 April 2008

Tanzania: Torch Keeps Protesters At Bay in Dar

Olympic Torch winds up Dar tour without a hitch

Contrasted to the rest of the World where the Olympic Torch has been subjected to mass protests by pro-Tibet groups, Dar es Salaam yesterday marked the most peaceful relay of the torch that arrived in the city late Saturday.

As a precautionary measure, the organisers had deployed tight security to guard against any sign of protest throughout the five-kilometre race.

Instead, the torch attracted thousands of people who had turned up at Tazara railway station at the junction of Mandela and Nyerere roads in Dar es Salaam escorted the torch all the way to the newly built National Stadium singing and dancing. People chanted "Tanzania is a peaceful country, Tanzania is a peaceful country, Tanzania is a peaceful country," all the way to the stadium.

Regardless of race, the relay was one of typical cosmopolitan event as locals mixed with the visitors while flapping mini flags of Tanzania and China. Police officials took no chances as the torch was relayed by selected leaders, officials and celebrities while a police helicopter hovered in the air until the end of the race.

"We feel very much honoured to have welcomed the torch peacefully. Tanzania has the brand of peace second to none worldwide which is one of the reasons for hosting the torch," said Adam Kimbisa, the Dar es Salaam city mayor.

The torch arrived in Dar es Salaam on Saturday night by a special flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Initially, the relay was planned to cover 25 kilometres but the threat of protests forced the organisers to cut the distance to five.

United Nations' Habitat Director Anna Tibaijuka was the last person to hold the torch on it's arrival at the National Stadium.

"My fellow Tanzanians, this is a great moment to us as we represent the whole Africa," said Tibaijuka. She said Tanzania is proud of it's long prevailing peace and the torch's presence marked a new milestone to strengthen the existing unity between people of different religions, ethnic origins, political affiliations, dialects and cultures.

The torch, which was lit in Olympia, Greece, on March 25 for it's long journey to 22 cities in the five continents, was disrupted by heavy protests in Paris, London and San Francisco.

The torch is expected in Muscat today on its way to Pakistan, India, far East onwards to Australiasia. This is the first time Tanzania hosted the Olympic Torch.

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