Olympic torch relay hit by flash protests

Last Updated: Jul 22, 2012, 16:41 PM IST

London: The Olympic torch relay, currently travelling through the British capital after it arrived from Olympia`s Temple of Hera in Greece, has had to face flash protests on the streets.

The protestors are demanding the restoration of cuts in the National Health Services (NHS) that is reeling under massive funding cuts.

NHS shares its birth year with the 1948 London Olympics. Londoners, who had rejoiced at opening of NHS and celebrated the arrival of the Olympic torch some 64 years ago, are now divided in their opinion of both.

"We never needed these Games at a time when the country is in a double-dip recession," Gurjeet Kaur said. She had been waiting for the torch to arrive for more than two hours in Leyton High Road.

"My kids brought me here," she said while watching her children curiously engaging with street magicians.

Leyton, known for the massive indoor velodrome and a sprawling outdoor racing track, borders the main Olympic venue of Stratford. Largely populated with migrants from Asia and Africa, Leyton is a dense and crowded neighbourhood after World War I Zeppelin raids devastated the entire area.

The long stretch of road between Leyton tube station and Walthamstow Central station was set up like an open carnival. The stilt walkers with painted faces were energetically accepting greetings and posing for photo opportunities while allowing a droll to trail behind them with a painted trolley bag containing their accessories.

A street magician mesmerised children with a crystal ball. The children were coming to terms to the sudden appearance and disappearance of the ball. When the children clamoured around the trickster to reveal the truth he clumsily peddled away in his unicycle announcing "to be taken away by the gravity."

Two other jugglers laid down two small children in the street and deftly juggled with props over them. The crowd screamed, but relieved when juggling props were returned to the boxes.

At the cross section of Leyton High Street and Lea Bridge Road, Bali Singh, who owned a mobile accessories shop, was briskly dealing with customers. His tiny daughter raised her head above the counter when the customers blocked her sight fixed on the street.

"The torch would come at half six, not now," Singh said to his daughter, apparently unable to restrain the girl`s curiosity.

An immigrant from Jhelum in Kashmir Imtiaz Ahmed, who owned an old kebab shop on the Lea Bridge Road, was enthusiastic.

"I really waited for this for long, but I wonder how the torch relay can pass through this narrow street."

His son, fatigued from the rigours of the hotel job and necessity to keep up with holy Ramadan`s "frugal regimen," appeared disinterested when he set up his stool in the front of the shop to rest.

In front of his shop was a row of Asian shops: a big vegetable shop, a shop selling Alphonso mangoes, and another selling anything from animal hide and knotted bones to pig`s ear. All were being emptied hurriedly before the road closure could begin.

"I am forced to close the shop before time, something I would not wish for in a normal day," said N. Raj, a Kenyan British national from Indian origin.

"But it is Olympics, how can`t I give in," he pouted his lips. A cacophony of the noise broke out. The relay torch had just arrived.

The flame, which Friday will be used to light a cauldron to indicate the start of the 2012 Olympics, will go through some of London`s familiar landmarks like the London Eye, Downing Street and Wimbledon before reaching the Olympic Stadium where it will be carried by eminent athletes in a relay to light the cauldron.

The identity of the final torch bearer, who will light the cauldron, is closely guarded secret, though several names are doing the rounds.

IANS