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April 23, 2008

Flame reaches Canberra, Australia

The Olympic torch arrived in Canberra, Australia, Wednesday morning after its stopover in Jakarta where authorities changed the relay route Indonesian  police arrested several protesters.

Amid tight security, Air China Airbus A330, the plane carrying the Beijing Olympics flame landed in Canberra Wednesday morning for Thursday's torch relay through the heart of the city.

Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) president John Coates said the international journey of the flame was the most ambitious and longest route ever planned for an Olympic torch relay.

“Australia will be proudly represented by a team of 440 athletes ready to write the next chapter in Australia’s rich Olympic history. I can't wait,” he said.

Australian organisers expect at least 2,000 protesters during the relay from both sides. A few protesters were arrested Tuesday on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, where they had been trying unfurl a large pro-Tibet banner, Sky News reported.

An Australian social justice advocate who was chosen to carry the torch said she was pulling out because of concerns over China's human rights record. Lin Hatfield-Dodds said she supports the Olympics and the athletes, but the symbolism of the relay had changed in the wake of China's crackdown in Tibet.

Criticism of China's human rights record has turned the relay into one of the most contentious in recent history. Anti-Chinese protests have dogged stops in Greece, Paris, London and San Francisco.

China had hoped the torch's journey would be a symbol of unity in the run-up to the Beijing Games, but the torch has drawn anti-China protests, as well as pro-China demonstrations, many involving Chinese studying overseas.

On Tuesday, China cancelled media access to the departure of a second torch from Everest North Base Camp before an attempt to take it to the top of the world's highest mountain. Officials denied the cancellation was linked to unrest in Tibetan areas.

Security concerns have also prompted changes to the torch route in Japan and caused sponsors to pull out of a motorcade for Saturday's relay in Nagano City, Japan, which is the next leg after Canberra, Australia.

The flame will be in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on April 29, the fourth Asean member country to host the torch relay, after stopovers in Seoul, Soth Korea, and Pyongyang, North Korea.

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