- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Runners carried the Olympic flame around the outside of a sports stadium yesterday — an invitation-only event in front of an elite, sparse crowd with heavy security to deter any anti-China demonstrators or terrorist attacks.

Clearly worried that the high-profile ceremony might be disrupted, thousands of police accompanied by explosives-sniffing dogs stood guard as Pakistan’s pro-China government ensured a trouble-free stop on the torch’s global tour toward Beijing.

Televised live — the only way the general public could watch the event — the relay of Pakistani and Chinese torchbearers looked almost like a practice run as they jogged on access roads around the perimeter of Jinnah Stadium, Islamabad’s main sports complex.

President Pervez Musharraf, fresh from a six-day trip to China, presented the Olympic flame to the first runner and then joined a raft of schoolchildren on reviewing stands.

“I would like the people of China, who are our closest friends, to know that we stand with you and support you in this glorious event you host for the entire world,” Mr. Musharraf said in an address.

Protests of China’s human rights record have disrupted the torch’s passage through Western cities, and Pakistan has gone to great lengths to avoid any repeat during the Olympic symbol’s 22-hour stay here.

The original plans for carrying the torch along a nearly two-mile route from the white-marble Parliament in Pakistan’s capital were changed.

Col. Baseer Haider, an army official helping organize the event, said the route was changed because of the “overall security environment” and the risk of bad weather. A violent hailstorm hit Islamabad on Tuesday, but the weather was fine yesterday.

Police, many carrying guns, surrounded the stadium, where soldiers manned the main gate and checked vehicles with sniffer dogs. Only guests with invitation cards issued by the Pakistan Olympic Association were allowed in.

A plane carrying the torch from Oman landed at the military section of Islamabad airport amid tight security early yesterday.

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