Olympics: Russia Kicks Off Torch Relay For Sochi Games

Russia Stocks Fall First Day in Three on U.S. Default Concern

As the torch begins its journey, Human Rights Watch is launching a new interactive alternative torch relay map to spotlight serious human rights concerns in the cities and towns along the relay route. Russias torch relay aims to display the countrys diversity and history, but human rights abuses are very much a part of Russias contemporary geography, said Jane Buchanan , associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch. People should be aware of the discrimination, silencing of activists, and other human rights abuses that Russia isnt showcasing. According to the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committees website, the torch relay will last 123 days, arriving in Sochi on February 7, 2014, for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games . The torch will travel more than 65,000 kilometers, through 2,900 localities in all 83 of Russias regions. Organizers claim the relay will be the longest in Winter Olympics history. Human Rights Watchs map highlights key human rights cases in 39 major cities across Russia. These include politically motivated cases against three members of the punk group Pussy Riot, the political opposition activist Alexei Navalny, and participants in the 2012 demonstration in Bolotnaya Square. At a time when Russia is throwing open its doors to the world, it is opening the door to discrimination and closing space for activism, said Buchanan. This is a moment for the international community to urge the rollback of the raft of repressive laws brought into force over the last year. The map also shows the reach of the governments 2013 campaign to demonize many human rights and other independent groups by trying to force them to register as foreign agents . The foreign agents campaign has taken a harsh toll on a wide variety of nongovernmental organizations across Russia, Buchanan said. Groups that bring together hunters and fishermen, aim to support those recovering from alcohol addiction, strive to promote environmental protection, or provide legal aid to prisoners they have all been targeted under this heavy-handed law. Other cases show rising homophobia and attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in numerous cities across Russia, including Khabarovsk, Voronezh, and St. Petersburg, including after the adoption of anti-LGBT propaganda laws by local legislatures and the federal parliament . Still others tell stories of police torture or the authorities failure to adequately investigate killings of journalists and human rights advocates, such as Natalia Estemirova, a human rights activist and journalist who was abducted and killed in 2009 in Chechnya. No one has been held responsible for her killing. The map also draws attention to challenges to accessibility for people with disabilities and restrictions on palliative care for people in debilitating pain, by highlighting cases in specific cities that reflect broader concerns nationwide.

With the U.S. set to exhaust measures to avoid breaching its debt ceiling on Oct. 17, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said lawmakers wont raise the limit without packaging it with other provisions, a nonstarter for President Barack Obama . Utilities sank 1 percent on average, while basic materials and oil and gas shares lost 0.8 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Boehners comments that Republicans are willing to go to the very end has created fear that the U.S. might actually default on its debt, Slava Smolyaninov, a strategist at UralSib Capital in Moscow, said by phone. Investors are fleeing risky assets. If economic growth in the U.S. slows, the Russian economy will also lose out. Materials, utilities shares are especially sensitive to this sentiment. A shutdown lasting one week would probably shave 0.1 percentage point from economic growth, according to the median estimate of economists in a Bloomberg survey. OAO Mechel (MTLR) , Russia s biggest coking coal producer, declined 1.4 percent to 102 rubles. Steelmaker OAO Severstal tumbled 1.1 percent to 277.30 rubles.

Russian torchbearers set off Monday on history’s longest Olympic torch relay ahead of February’s Winter Games in Sochi, which will take the flame across the country and even put it on a deer sleigh. Caption MOSCOW: Russian torchbearers set off Monday on history’s longest Olympic torch relay ahead of February’s Winter Games in Sochi, which will take the flame across the country and even put it on a deer sleigh. In a Red Square ceremony, Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin lit a torch from the flame that arrived from Athens on Sunday, passing it to Anastasiya Davydova, a synchronised swimming champion, who began jogging through flying confetti. The flame will spend two days in the Russian capital before it is taken southeast to its next destination Kolomna, an ancient city in the Moscow region. Russia is hosting an elaborate relay through all 83 of its regions, including extreme locales such as Chukotka, the remote region in Russia’s Far East, the turbulent North Caucasus, and even Russia’s European exclave Kaliningrad. As part of the relay, the flame will sail on a nuclear-powered icebreaker to the North Pole, dive into the world’s deepest freshwater lake, Baikal, and ascend Europe’s highest peak on Mount Elbrus. One kilometre of the 65,000 kilometre (40,000 mile) journey from Athens to the Black Sea resort Sochi, where the Games begin on February 7, will be done by deer sleigh, organisers said. Russian authorities even mulled the idea of sending the flame into space. The plan was discarded out of safety concerns, but an unlit Olympic torch will blast off to the International Space Station on November 7, where two Russian cosmonauts will take it for a space walk before its return to Earth on November 11. – AFP/al

Russia welcomes Olympic flame

Organizers had built an enormous stage that obscured Lenins tomb and stretched nearly the entire north-south length of the square that defines the heart of Russia. They packed it with cheerleaders in white, blue and red, two military bands, choirs in maroon ponchos, drummers, a bugle corps and traditional dancers, all to welcome the flame and the president. With a pale autumnal sun making its first appearance here in days behind him, Putin at last began the public celebrations in the run-up to Februarys Olympics. He had lobbied relentlessly to land them, has been closely involved in supervising their preparation and has gambled on their success as an affirmation of Russias return to greatness. As Putin walked to the stage before an assembled crowd of 1,000 or so, he appeared to be in an uncharacteristically sunny frame of mind. He smiled and waved genially, if not with any excessive enthusiasm, to the crowd. Russians have a talent for spectacle, and though the ceremony lasted just 22 minutes, it went full-bore all the way. The lyrics of the main song of greeting consisted almost entirely of the word Russia, repeated deeply and soulfully over and over. A huge screen showed photos of Russian nature and architecture in all their beauty. Not portrayed was an Arctic oil rig of the sort that provoked a protest by Greenpeace last month, which has resulted in criminal piracy charges against its international crew. Thats the sort of party-spoiling development that Russia would seem to be keen to avoid between now and the Games, but the threat of stiff criminal prosecution has instead aroused protest and some alarm abroad coming, as it does, on the heels of a new law widely seen in the West as aimed against gays and lesbians . At 5:12 p.m. the flame, which arrived in Russia from Greece aboard an Aeroflot flight, was transferred from its traveling lamp to a large torch on the Red Square stage.

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