Indians slam Beijing Olympic relay


NEW DELHI -- The Beijing Olympic torch relay is taking on political overtones in India, with one movie star saying he'll run it "for the people of Tibet" and the national soccer team captain bowing out in protest.

Baichung Bhutia, captain of India's national soccer team, said Monday that he would not participate in the torch relay, due to arrive April 17, in protest of China's crackdown in Tibet.

Fans and activist groups have called on Indian celebrities to boycott the relay in the run up to the Beijing Games since Chinese authorities last month cracked down on protestors against Chinese rule in Tibet, a region the size of France that separates India and China.

"This is my way of standing by the people of Tibet and their struggle. I abhor violence in any form," said Bhutia, who hails from the North Eastern Indian state of Sikkim, which borders Tibet.

In response, Indian Information and Broadcasting Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi said Tuesday that Bhutia's decision was his right but unrelated to "the football fraternity."

"The All India Football Federation welcomes the Beijing 2008 Olympic Torch Relay as a part of the legacy of the Olympic Movement," Dasmunsi said in a statement. "We wish for the success of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games."

Meanwhile, actor Amir Khan, best known in the West as the star of the 2002 Oscar nominee "Lagaan" (Land Tax), said on his blog Tuesday that the Olympic Games "do not belong to China" and that he would run his leg of the relay "for all people across the world who are victims of human rights violations."

Khan, one of India's most popular actors, said he will carry the torch "not in support of China" but "with a prayer in my heart for the people of Tibet."

The start of the 85,000-mile torch relay was disrupted in Greece last week by French activists demanding freedom of the press in Tibet. China's strictly controlled broadcast media cut scenes of the protest from its coverage.

The relay is due to arrive in Tibet and make a detour up Mount Everest in June.