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Olympic Torch Relay Continues in Quake-battered Sichuan

 The Olympic torch reached the city of Leshan, a major Buddhist resort and home to the world's tallest ancient Buddha statue, on Monday, the second leg of its tour across the quake-battered Sichuan Province.

The Leshan leg of the torch relay began at 7:38 AM on Monday. Tan Guoqiang, a primary school teacher from Wenchuan County, epicenter of the devastating quake of May 12, ignited the flame.

Tan, 44, was honored a hero for searching more than 70 hours in the rubble of school buildings for lives, despite the grief over the death of his wife in the quake.

He is one of the 29 quake fighting heroes on the list of more than 800 torchbearers in Sichuan.

Former Olympic diving champion Gao Min is one of the the 185 torchbearers in Leshan.

Crowds of people spent the previous night on a square close to Emeishan Mountain, the starting point of the 7.5-kilometer torch relay, waiting to share the excitement.

The relay route was festooned with Chinese national flags and the Olympic flags, and onlookers shouted "Go, go, China; Go, go, Olympics" from either side of the street.

Wang Jian, a master of Chinese Wushu and a torchbearer, said he hoped the Beijing Games could provide an opportunity for the worldwide revival of Chinese martial arts. "My hometown is known for Wushu, and I hope Wushu would be included in the Olympic Games someday."

Wang, 40, followed his father to learn Wushu at six and later founded a school of martial arts in Leshan. He has carried out intensive research in the field and published many essays on the history of Wushu in Leshan.

The torch relay will continue in Mianyang and Guanghan on Mondayafternoon and in the provincial capital Chengdu on Tuesday.

The 8.0-magnitude earthquake seriously battered Sichuan. The death toll was nearly 70,000, while about 20,000 others are reported missing.

The quake resulted in the closure of almost all tourist destinations in Sichuan though little damage was done to their infrastructure. The Buddha statue and the Emeishan Mountain, a world heritage site, reopened to tourists in mid-June.

After the earthquake, the Beijing Olympic organizing committee rescheduled the time and relay route and decided to pass the Olympic torch through Sichuan from August 3 to 5, instead of the initially planned June.

After Sichuan, the Olympic flame will arrive in the host city Beijing on August 6, two days prior to the opening of the Games.

(Xinhua News Agency August 4, 2008)

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