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Olympic flame arrives in Almaty

ALMATY, April 1 (Xinhua) -- The sacred torch relay kicked off as the Beijing Olympic flame arrived in Almaty on Tuesday.

    The chartered plane of "Olympic flame" landed at 1:10 p.m. local time. The Beijing Organizing Committee of Olympic Games (BOCOG) executive vice president Jiang Xiaoyu carried the flame lantern and made a spell of exhibition at the airport. Chinese ambassador in Kazakhstan and vice mayor of Almaty received the flame delegation.

    Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev is to attend the celebration ceremony of the relay.

    "It's possible for the president Nazarbayev to run as the torchbearer, but it's not for sure yet," said Saken Balbaev, the press center representative.

    Top Kazak athletes will run the torch relay in bulk, including Bakhtiyar Artaev, Olympic boxing champion of 2004, Ludmila Prokasheva, skating bronze medallist of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Zhaksylyk Ushekempirov, Olympic wrestling champion of 1980.

    Other local celebrities included Adilbek Zhaaksybekov, Football Federation President of Kazakhstan, and Pavel Novikov, Athletics Federation President of Kazakhstan.

    Mayor of Almaty Imangali Tasmagambetov and Chinese ambassador Zhang Xiyun are also the torchbearers.

    Almaty will present a great relay in a variety of ways and conceive highlights. Skating, skiing and horse riding will be featured in the city relay.

    The relay starts from Dam and will pass Medeo Skating center, one of the major venue for 2011 Asian Winter Games, National Museum, Independence Square, National Science Academy, National Theatre, reaching Astana Square as the destination.

    Balbaev expects a great success in the Almaty relay. "We have been preparing for the torch relay for months, and we have been working hard, so it will be a success for the relay," said Balbaev.

    "We had a rehearsal yesterday, which proved to be OK with everything."

    Almaty is the first leg of the 33-day global torch relay outside mainland China. The flame left on a chartered plane of "Olympic flame" after an elaborate kickoff ceremony held in host city Beijing on Monday. It will make 21 stopovers before returning to mainland China on May 4.

    Almaty, one of the important cities along the ancient Silk Road, is the largest city in Kazakhstan, with a population of nearly one and a half million, which represents 10 percent of the population in the country.

    It was the capital of Kazakhstan from 1929 to 1998. Despite losing its status as the capital to Astana, Almaty remains the major commercial center of Kazakhstan.

    The name "Almaty" means "rich in apple". In the surrounding region, there is a great genetic diversity among the wild apples; the region is in fact in the ancestral home of the apple, and the wild Malus sieversii, now considered to be a likely candidate for the ancestor of the modern domestic apple.

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