Olympic Torch Relay Celebrations Scaled Back

By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 13, 2008; 12:20 PM

BEIJING, May 13 -- The Olympic torch will be carried through quake-ravaged Sichuan province on schedule next month, but China is scaling back celebrations along the route out of respect for earthquake victims and will observe a minute of silence each morning before the torch relay proceeds, officials said.

Olympic organizers said the first minute of silence would be observed Wednesday morning in Ruijin city in Jiangxi province. The death toll from the earthquake stands at more than 12,000 and is expected to rise further as rescue crews assess the hardest-hit areas.

In a statement posted on the Web site of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, officials said the committee "has decided that beginning with the relay in Jiangxi Province, it will simplify procedures, emphasize simplicity and efficiency while putting safety first during the relay."

Donation boxes will also be set up along the relay route to help provide relief for victims of the quake, the statement said.

"To reduce the scale, we will cancel all the performances on the celebrating ceremonies," said Wang Hui, a spokeswoman for the organizing committee.

The procession of the torch through Europe and the United States earlier this year was marred by controversy and protests from demonstrators trying to draw attention to China's human rights record.

In London, Paris and San Francisco, as well as other stops, demonstrators tried to snatch the torch, at times forcing the procession to seek refuge on buses and travel through back streets.

Despite the disturbances, organizers declined to change the planned route of the torch.

Not everyone agreed with the decision, announced Tuesday, to make the relay less showy in the wake of the earthquake.

"There is no connection between the earthquake and the torch relay," said an orange farmer in Ruijin who gave his surname as Zhou. "China is so big and this accident is inevitable, so it's unnecessary to make adjustments."

Olympic organizers sought to reassure potential foreign visitors that they would be safe during the Aug. 8-24 event, despite the devastating quake. Zhang Jian, director of the organizing committee's project management department, stressed to reporters in the capital that the quake area is a long way from Beijing and would have no effect on the games.

In any case, Olympic venues have been constructed to withstand earthquakes with an intensity of up to 8.0 on the Richter scale, according to Li Zhanjun, deputy director of the Olympic media center.

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