ISTANBUL -- The second leg of the global torch relay for the Beijing Olympics kicked off here on Thursday at 14:35 local time (GMT 1135) when Turkish Olympic Committee President Togay Bayatli handed over the torch to the first runner.
The first torchbearer Tugba Karademir holds the torch during the Olympic torch relay in Istanbul, Turkey, April 3, 2008. Istanbul is the second stopover of 2008 Beijing Olympic Games flame relay outside mainland of China. [Xinhua]
Bayatli received the torch which was lit by the Olympic flame in a specially-designed lantern carried by Beijing Organizing Committee of Olympic Games (BOCOG) executive vice president, Jiang Xiaoyu.
The torch lighting ceremony was held at Hagia Sophia Square, which stands across the landmark Sultan Ahmed Mosque (better known as the Blue Mosque) in the Old City in Istanbul's European part.
Thousands of spectators, including Turkish Sports Minister Murat Basesgioglu, gathered at the square to celebrate the historic moment, clapping and cheering loudly when Bayatli held high the torch.
Before the lighting ceremony, a Turkish folk dance group consisting of some 20 Turkish boys and girls in traditional yellow and red costumes performed dance on the stage.
Bayatli then handed over the torch to the first torchbearer Tugba Karademir, a promising Turkish figure skater aged 23, who then started her 200-meter stretch of the 17.8-kilometer route.
Karademir, who became the first figure skater from Turkey in 2006 to compete in the Olympic Winter games, carried the flame and began running northwards to the New City in the European part of Istanbul, which is the only city in the world located on two continents -- Asia and Europe.
Prior to the relay, Karademir told Xinhua that she had just returned to Istanbul particularly for this event from Canada, where she has been living and receiving training since 1996 when her parents decided to move the family there so that she could train seriously.
"It is a great honor for me, particularly as an athlete of winter sports, a bit of novelty," she said. "In the past, the skating had been left out in Turkey.... But now an increasing number of boys and girls are showing interest in skating."
Karademir and the other 79 torchbearers are expected to cover the Istanbul route in about four hours, which is divided into three sections.
The first section is 7.6 kilometers long, stretching from Hagia Sophia Square to the Ortakoy wharf in the European side of Istanbul, which is situated underneath another landmark the Bosporus Bridge, a famous suspension bridge spanning Asia and Europe. Thirty runners are participating in this section, which will pass other famous historic sites, including the Dolmabahce Palace and the Underground Cistern.
The second section, with an involvement of six runners, is a 1.2-km ship sailing across the Bosporus Strait to the Beylerbeyi wharf in the Asian part of Istanbul. With it, the Beijing Olympic flame returns to Asia.
The third and final section, 10 kilometers long, includes the crossing of the 1,560-meter Bosporus Bridge. After the crossing, the torch will head for its destination, Taksim Square, for the lighting of a ceremonial cauldron. In the end, celebrations and plays will be staged on the square.
The sacred Olympic flame was flown into Istanbul in the early hours on Thursday from Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty, the first leg of the global relay.