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Friday, May 23, 2008 - Page updated at 12:10 PM

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Olympic torch relay resumes after earthquake mourning

Associated Press Writer

NINGBO, China —

The Olympic torch resumed its journey through China on Thursday after a three-day period of national mourning for victims of the country's devastating earthquake.

The torch relay started on the dock of a container terminal in the eastern seaport city of Ningbo, then traveled through the city amid huge but orderly crowds of people, many waving the crimson national flag and decked out in Olympics T-shirts, hats and headbands.

The torch lighting ceremony, held beside giant cranes used to move containers on and off of ships, began with a call for those attending to stand for a minute in silent commemoration for victims of the earthquake.

"Your love is our hope," said the first torchbearer of the day, crane operator Zhu Shijie. "We all must fight the earthquake together."

The crew of the MSC Rita watched from their ship, which blew its horn to signal the end of the ceremony. Flags, which were at half-staff during the mourning period, fluttered in the wind.

The torch was to be moved later in the day by vehicle to the country's commercial center of Shanghai.

Also Thursday, Olympics organizers announced that the Sichuan province leg of the relay had been shifted from mid-June to early August because of the quake.

"This has been done to support the disaster relief efforts in Sichuan," the organizers said in a statement.

It said the Sichuan leg would run from Aug. 3 to Aug. 5 instead of the originally planned June 15 to June 18. It did not say if the torch relay would still go through Mianyang, one of the hardest-hit areas, as planned. The Beijing games start Aug. 8.

So far, the torch has had a smooth relay in mainland China, uninterrupted by the protests over Tibet and human rights that dogged parts of its international tour.

But organizers scaled down the celebratory, triumphant tone of the relay after the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck central China on May 12, flattening entire communities.

Corporate sponsors such as Coca-Cola and Chinese computer maker Lenovo Corp. were also back displaying their logos Thursday.

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The torch relay last stopped in Hangzhou, a scenic city to the west of Ningbo. Organizers combined two days of events in Ningbo and Jiaxing, but it was unclear exactly how its route through the rest of China would be adjusted to make up for the delay this week.

China's leadership has sought to use the Olympics, which begin Aug. 8 in Beijing, to showcase the country's achievements and rally national unity. The torch relay, which has traveled to all corners of the globe and to the top of Mount Everest, has played a crucial role in the buildup to the Games.

Organizers initially resisted changes in the relay, which corporate sponsors have paid millions of dollars to fund.

But public pressure for a moratorium on the event, mainly seen on Chinese-language Web sites and blogs, prompted organizers to adjust details of the relay. Some legs of the run were shortened and donations for victims have been collected along the way.

The torch was to remain in Shanghai on Friday and Saturday, and then travel on to neighboring Jiangsu province. It is due to arrive June 13 in the sprawling Yangtze-river city of Chongqing.

The torch returns to Beijing on Aug. 6, two days before the opening ceremonies.

During the three-day national mourning period, flags were flying at half-staff and entertainment events were canceled. Television networks were running only news programs.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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