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1ST LEAD Olympic torch lit as Rio countdown begins By Takis Tsafos, dpa

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Athens (dpa) - The Olympic torch for the Rio de Janeiro Games was lit Thursday at the birthplace in Greece of the ancient games.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach was among the guests as Greek actress Katerina Lehou, playing a high priestess, lit the torch from the rays of the sun using a parabolic mirror.

However Brazil President Dilma Rousseff cancelled her plans to attend ahead of the impeachment vote earlier this week by the lower house of parliament.

"These Olympic Games will be a message of hope in troubled times - and indeed the flame will carry this message into all corners of Brazil and, indeed, all the world," Bach said.

"Despite the difficulties that Brazil is facing today, the flame is a timeless reminder that we are all part of the same humanity."

Carlos Nuzman, head of the Rio organizing committee, said the Olympic flame "brings a message that can and will unite our dear Brazil."

The ceremony outside the Temple of Hera in Olympia continued a ritual which began 80 years ago with the Berlin 1936 torch relay.

Greek gymnast Eleftherios Petrounias was the first to take the flame, which after a relay through Greece will arrive at the ancient Olympic stadium in Athens on April 27 - marking 100 days to go to the Olympics - when the torchbearer will be a refugee.

The Olympic torch relay will officially start in Brazil‘s capital Brasilia on May 3 on a 95-day tour around the country.

It will pass through 329 towns and cities, travelling more than 20,000 kilometres by road and 10,000 miles by air around the host country, and be carried by 12,000 torchbearers.

The last torchbearer will light the Olympic cauldron during the Games opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium on August 5.

The Olympic flame during the Games is set to burn in central Rio, but organizers are yet to reveal details.

According to the daily Folha de Sao Paulo, the flame could be sited in the harbour region where a large Olympic boulevard is planned. The flame would then return to the Maracana Stadium for the closing ceremony on August 21.



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