ISLAMABAD, April 16: Pakistan welcomed on Wednesday the Olympic Torch on what was seen as a positive and trouble-free leg of its world tour.
Protests have marred the torch’s passage through western cities, and Pakistan went to great lengths to avoid any repeat during its stay in the capital city.
The relay passed off in a peaceful manner with President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani attending the torch-lighting event and later a spectacular two-hour ceremony at the Liaquat Gymnasium.
Dazzling fireworks outside gymnasium rounded off the Olympic Torch Relay in Pakistan. The sky above the Pakistan Sports Complex was dotted with balloons released at the start of the ceremony.
A horse-drawn carriage brought the lantern to the stage for lighting the torch.
The president and prime minister hailed the event as another proof of deep-rooted and everlasting relations between Pakistan and China. They said that the Torch Relay would further strengthen Pakistan-China ties.
Up to 66 runners carried the torch into the gymnasium after parading in and around the Pakistan Sports Complex. Prominent among those who ran one by one holding the torch aloft were former hockey stars Samiullah and Hassan Sardar, former World Squash Champion Jehangir Khan and Olympian boxer Ibrar Hussain Shah.
Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Yau Hui was among the runners. He carried the torch for a few minutes after receiving it from Samiullah.
The final ceremony featured folk dances and music of the four provinces of Pakistan.
Pop singer Najam Sheraz enthralled the audience which had filled the 10,000 capacity gymnasium.
The executive vice-president of Beijing Olympics Jaing Xiaoyu lauded the grand success of the Olympic Torch Relay in Pakistan.
He said that Pakistan-China had time-tested friendship and the torch relay was a testimony to that fact.
The President of Pakistan Olympic Association, Lt-Gen (retd) Arif Hassan, presented the address of welcome, while IOC member in Pakistan Shahid Ali read out a message from the President of International Olympic Committee, Mr Jacques Roggee.
In his message, Mr Roggee promised that other cities in Pakistan would be selected for the future Olympic Torch Relay.
He hoped that August 8-24 Olympic games in Beijing would be one of the best ever in Olympic history.
The Olympic Torch was scheduled to leave for New Delhi later in the night for the next stop on its worldwide tour.
The torch relay will cover a total distance of 137,000 kilometres on its tour of 19 countries.
Before coming to Islamabad, the Olympic Torch visited Almatay, Istanbul, St. Peterburg, Moscow, London, Paris, Sans Francisco, Daressalam and Muscat.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Minister for Ports and Shipping, Privatisation and Investment Syed Naveed Qamar, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sherry Rehman and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior Rehman Malik also attended the ceremony.—APP