The Olympic torch relay continued its "journey of harmony" around China yesterday despite the Sichuan earthquake, triggering an Internet outcry.
China's official Xinhua news agency announced that the torch had embarked on its 12th domestic leg in Fujian Province just one day after the quake devastated vast areas of southwest China.
The leg kicked off at 8:12am in Longyan, a town in the western part of the province, with China's Olympic weightlifting medalist Zhang Xiangxiang (撘菜?蟡? running the first stage, Xinhua reported.
On its Web site, the Beijing Olympics organizing committee showed a picture of a beaming Zhang holding the torch aloft.
Li Zhanjun (???頠?, a spokesman for the organizing committee, said the organizers were "very sad" for the victims, but the quake would not affect the preparation of the Games or the torch relay.
"The earthquake-stricken area is not on the route of the torch relay, so the relay will go on as scheduled," he told Xinhua.
Li said the "route and schedule were a joint decision by the International Olympic Committee and [the Beijing organizers]. We have no right to change it alone."
Today the relay -- whose motto is "Journey of Harmony" -- is scheduled to head to Jiangxi Province as it continues its three-month journey through China, culminating in Beijing with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron on Aug. 8 to begin the Games.
Hao Hailei, spokesman for the provincial torch relay organizing committee in Jiangxi, insisted that the relay would go ahead as planned, according to the state-run China News Service.
The decision to carry on despite a major natural disaster triggered an outcry on the Internet, with Chinese netizens slamming organizers.
Posting the committee's main telephone number on Sina.com, a popular web portal, one resident of Hubei Province said: "All Chinese should ring them up and condemn them for being so inhuman."
A Fujian resident said the relay should be canceled and the money saved should be sent to help quake victims.
"I think this whole wasteful relay should be scrapped -- let's show a little humanity," the post said.
The relay is due to pass through disaster-hit Sichuan Province next month, with a leg planned for the provincial capital Chengdu on June 18, four days after Chongqing, which is also reeling from the quake.
Efforts to contact relay organizers in the quake-hit province were unsuccessful.
The relay has been dogged by protests since the flame was ignited in Olympia, Greece, on March 24, with international legs witnessing protests over China's rule of Tibet, its human rights record and support of Sudan's pariah government.
When the relay ends, the torch will have traveled 137,000km around the globe over 130 days, the longest Olympic torch relay in history.