China's 'Lucky' Olympics Begin Today Amid Triumph, Tragedy, Protests And Smog

Smog blankets a power station in Northern Beijing.
Smog blankets a power station in Northern Beijing.
A former 'Lost Boy' of Sudan will be the flag-bearer for the U.S. Olympic team tonight.
A former 'Lost Boy' of Sudan will be the flag-bearer for the U.S. Olympic team tonight.

President Bush and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are among the 91,000 at National Stadium to watch the opening ceremony at the Beijing Games. Another 15,000 people made up the cast used to depict China's 5,000-year history as told through music, dance and pyrotechnics.

The American flag-bearer is 1,500-meter runner Lopez Lomong, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan who became a U.S. citizen after spending a decade of his youth in a refugee camp in Kenya.

At the same time, more than a thousand Tibetan exiles held protests in pouring rain Friday in New Delhi, chanting anti-China slogans and demanding freedom for Tibet hours ahead of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

The protesters chanted "Free Tibet" and "Down with China" and waved Tibetan flags and a large banner that said, "Time is running out, stop the Olympics." The protests were held in the heart of New Delhi amid tight security, with India reluctant to embarrass Beijing ahead of the games.

Hundreds of police and armed paramilitary soldiers surrounded the marchers and stood by with tear gas canisters and water canons.

Later, heavily armed police stopped dozens of protesters who tried to storm the Chinese Embassy to coincide with the games' opening ceremony. The troops and barricades erected earlier kept the three busloads of activists far from the Chinese mission.

More than 2,000 protesters also marched in Dharmsala, the north Indian hill town that is home to the Tibetan government-in-exile. All shops and businesses run by Tibetans stayed closed Friday.

India is home to the largest Tibetan exile community and their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The protesters say that China's often harsh rule of Tibet goes against the Olympic spirit.

While China shows the world the progress it has made with a "grand opening ceremony, in Tibet a few thousand Tibetans will be in prison for merely practicing their freedom of expression," said Chimi Youngdrung, the head of the National Democratic Party of Tibet, one the dozens of rights groups based in Dharmsala.

"With protests around the world and in Beijing, the festival of peaceful activism has begun," he added.

Anti-China protests were also happening today in central London. More than 200 protesters gathered at the Chinese Embassy to voice their anger at China's human rights record.

Huge flags were waved by the raucous crowd as a crowd of protesters repeatedly chanted: "Free Tibet."

Today's date -- 8-8-08 -- is considered a very lucky day by the Chinese. The word for the number eight in Chinese sounds like the word for prosperity and wealth.

Chinese favor the number for marriage dates, giving birth, a home address and telephone numbers. The opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics began at 8:08 p.m., local time.

Information from the Associated Press. Video courtesy of CNN Newsource.

Cathryn Khalil /