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Flame rehearsal in Greece for Beijing Winter Games

A sunburst over the overcast birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece was too short-lived to light the backup flame for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at Sunday's dress rehearsal. It was the second blip of the day, after two protesters were detained on the Acropolis in Athens trying to raise a banner to draw attention to human rights abuses in China. There has been widespread international criticism of China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the northwest region of Xinjiang, as well as its crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong and its policies toward Tibet and Taiwan. But the International Olympic Committee has shied away from the issue, saying it's out of its remit. The question of the weather over Olympia is simpler. Greek organisers have another backup flame lit in advance in the traditional way, using a bowl-shaped mirror to focus the sun's rays on a torch, which will serve if clouds disrupt the full ceremony on Monday. Health measures for the second pandemic flame-lighting at Ancient Olympia, in the southern Peloponnese region, mean that much of the normal pageantry is being trimmed. There will be no spectators Monday, and only three runners will take part in a symbolic relay -- which would normally have lasted days. Sunday's dress rehearsal didn't even have the costumes, for fear of them getting soaked by rain. Instead, young actresses and dancers playing the part of pagan priestesses went through their routine looking incongruous in sportswear and sandals, to save their flowing tunics for Monday. The flame will be taken to Athens and handed over to Beijing organizers on Tuesday at the renovated ancient stadium where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896. Earlier Sunday, two activists attempted to hang a banner from the scaffolding on the Acropolis before being detained. The Beijing Winter Games will run from February 4-20. Only spectators from mainland China will be allowed to attend. Everyone at the Olympics -- including athletes -- will be expected to be vaccinated, or else have to spend 21 days in quarantine. The Paralympics are set to follow from March 4-13.