Carried by samba stars and a prince, Olympic torch nears ceremony

Fri Aug 5, 2016 9:06pm EDT
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By Brad Haynes and Pedro Fonseca

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Carried by samba stars, a supermodel and Prince Albert of Monaco, the Olympic torch made its final journey on Friday from Rio de Janeiro's iconic Christ the Redeemer statue to the Games' opening ceremony amid anti-government protests.

After seven years of preparations for Friday's opening at the Maracana stadium, organizers hope the start of the Games will turn the page on months of bad publicity for Rio, over everything from crime and polluted water to faulty plumbing at the athletes' village and worries about the Zika virus.

Under cloudless blue skies, former Brazilian women's volleyball player, Isabel Salgado, lifted the flame beneath the giant statue of Christ that overlooks downturn Rio and the waters of Guanabara Bay.

Amid cheering crowds of local and tourists, the torch made its way along Rio's seafront avenues and traveled to the top of the famed Sugar Loaf mountain on the top of the cable car.

"May this be the moment for us to overcome difficult times and to work as a team, to make our country and our world fairer and safer," Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta said beneath the arms of the giant statue at the start of the route, flanked by Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes.

Thousands of flag-waving protesters blocked traffic on the curving boulevard beside Copacabana beach, in front of the city's storied Palace hotel, calling for the removal of conservative interim President Michel Temer.

After taking office when leftist President Dilma Rousseff was put on trial in the Senate in the midst of a sweeping graft scandal, Temer has steered Latin America's largest economy - and one of the world's most unequal countries - sharply to the right.

Small groups of protesters waving banners reading 'Exclusion Games' gathered near the Maracana stadium where Friday's opening ceremony will be held, but heavily armed riot police barred the streets and prevented them from approaching the venue.   Continued...

Fireworks explode during the opening ceremony     REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski