The Olympic flame lit on Thursday for London Olympics continued its trip across Greece, sending the world the messages of peace and hope, as the torch relay reached on Saturday the city of Ioannina in the western part of the country.
"We welcome the sacred light that enlightens the great ideals of the Olympic movement and the most beautiful and optimistic images of our country amidst difficult times," Mayor of Ioannina Filippas Filios said during a welcoming ceremony, as students greeted the torchbearers with songs, flowers and crowds of locals and foreign visitors erupted in warm applause.
It was a reference to the severe debt crisis that has hit Greece hard since late 2009. Hellenic Olympic Committee officials reminded Saturday that the Greek leg of the Olympic torch relay this year is held thanks to sponsorships from the private sector, as state expenses have been cut down amidst efforts to tackle the crisis.
Similar ceremonies were staged in many western Greek cities, such as the port of Patras at the Peloponnese, where the flame returned Saturday after its stopover in the southern Greece islands of Crete and Kastellorizo on Friday.
The sacred light that will burn for the 2012 Games from July 27 to August 12, was ignited on Thursday at Olympia, the birthplace of the Games 2,500 years ago.
It will cover approximately 2,900 kilometers across Greece in the hands of about 490 torchbearers until reaching on May 17 the Panathenaic stadium in Athens.
At the venue of the first modern Olympics in 1896, the flame will be handed over to the British organizers of this year's Games.
The last athletes to carry the flame inside the stadium before it continues its journey for Britain will be Olympic champions Pyrros Dimas from Greece and Li Ning from China.