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Torch lit with hope for unity

Seoul: An Asian Games torch-lighting ceremony in North and South Korea with high symbolism for national unification aspirations went off on Thursday.

One torch was lit at the summit of South Korea’s highest peak Mount Halla on the southern island of Jeju for a near month-long journey to Pusan, the venue for Asia’s biggest sports festival.

The Asian Games organisers said they believed that a second torch-lighting ceremony had taken place on the Changun peak of Mount Paekdu on the border between North Korea and China.

The Changun peak is the North’s most sacred location and is the birthplace of North Korea’s late supreme leader Kim Jong-il, according Pyongyang historians. The plan, devised by the Pusan Asian Games organising committee following inter-Korean talks, provided for the two torches to come together at the border truce village of Panmunjon in a ceremony on Saturday. From that point a united torch would be carried by 7,457 people over 4,294 km to Pusan for the opening ceremony on September 29.

“We think the second torch has been lit in the north without a hitch,” Asian Games committee spokesman Huh Si-jong said. Eleven South Korean delegates with a special mirror for torch-lighting have been dispatched for the ceremony in the north.

The torch lit at the summit of Mount Halla was transported via helicopter down to Kim Hye-ji, a second-grade elementary schoolgirl from the country’s southernmost Mara Island, who will run the first leg of the torch relay.

North Korea’s participation would make the Pusan Asian Games the largest ever with 11,600 athletes and officials from all 43 members of the Olympic council of Asia taking part for the first time.

Meanwhile, the torch in India was lit by Vijay Kapoor, Lt. Governor of Delhi, and handed over to former Olympic athlete Gurcharan Singh Randhawa at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium Thursday New Delhi.

Randhawa was joined by Olympic medal winner Karnam Malleswari. The torch was then carried around the city by Arjuna awardees — Bhuvaneshwari Kumari, Manjit Dua, Ashok Kumar, Satish Kumar, Jaspal Rana, Khazan Singh, P.K. Garg and Sriram Singh - covering about 10km before being brought back to the stadium.

It will remain there in a pocket warmer till September 22 before being taken to South Korea by the Indian Chef de Mission, Jagdish Tytler.

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