Games light up Rio de Janeiro as Olympic fever hits

Thu Aug 4, 2016 7:41pm EDT
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By Caroline Stauffer and Daniel Flynn

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking Rio de Janeiro was illuminated in Brazil's yellow and green national colors on Thursday as the city put the finishing touches to its preparations for South America's first Olympics.

Workers rushed to install wiring and put up signs at venues as the Olympic flame made its way through the city of 6 million carried by a succession of sportsmen, stars and even a Nobel laureate, to cheers from thousands of residents who succumbed to the excitement of the Games.

It was a far cry from the previous evening, when riot police had used stun grenades and tear gas to clear protesters from the torch's path in a poor suburb of Rio, fuelling complaints that the Games have ignored the city's poor.

Those anti-torch demonstrations - the second in two days - underscored simmering social tensions in Latin America's largest nation amid its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and a political crisis that has deeply divided the country.

That resentment was nowhere to be seen on Thursday as the torch progressed through the well-heeled districts of Barra de Tijuca, where the Games will be held.

"It's impossible to explain the emotion of carrying the torch," said Brazil's double World Cup winning soccer captain Cafu, who joined Nobel peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus in carrying the Olympic flame on its penultimate day.

Brazil will open its Games on Friday in the famed Maracana soccer stadium with a ceremony showcasing samba and the drumming made famous by Rio's Carnival celebrations - which will be watched by 50,000 in the arena and an estimated 3 billion around the world by television.

The torch rode the waves into Rio on Thursday in the hands of veteran Brazilian surfer Rico de Souza, a day after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced surfing - a major pastime in Brazil - would be one of five new sports included in the 2020 Olympics.   Continued...

The Monumento a Los Espanoles (Monument to Spanish) is seen lit in the colours of Brazil's flag in homage to 2016 Rio Olympics in Buenos Aires, Argentina, August 4, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian