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ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece — Three activists protesting human rights abuses in China sneaked into the archaeological site where the flame lighting ceremony for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics was being held Monday and ran toward the newly lit torch holding a Tibetan flag and a banner that read “No genocide games.”
The protesters managed to enter the grounds and attempted to reach the Temple of Hera, where the ceremony was being held. They were thrown to the ground by police and detained.
“How can Beijing be allowed to host the Olympics given that they are committing a genocide against the Uyghurs?” one protester said, referring to the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China’s northwest region of Xinjiang.
The flame was lit at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece under heavy police security.
With the public excluded amid pandemic safety measures, and a cloudless sky over the verdant site of Ancient Olympia, the flame was ceremoniously kindled using the rays of the sun before being carried off on a mini torch relay.
Earlier, other protestors were detained by Greek police before they could reach the site. Pro-democracy protests also had broken out during the lighting ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.
Despite widespread international criticism of China’s human rights record, the International Olympic Committee has shied away from the issue, saying it falls outside its remit.
In his speech in the ancient stadium of Olympia, where in antiquity male athletes competed naked during a special truce among their often-warring cities, IOC President Thomas Bach stressed that the modern Games must be “respected as politically neutral ground.”
“Only this political neutrality ensures that the Olympic Games can stand above and beyond the political differences that exist in our times,” he said. “The Olympic Games cannot address all the challenges in our world. But they set an example for a world where everyone respects the same rules and one another.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.