BEIJING, Oct 12, 2010 (AFP) - Chinese President Hu Jintao launched the Asian Games torch relay in central Beijing Tuesday, kicking off a 21-city nationwide trek that will end in Guangzhou for the start of the event on November 12.
Hu handed the Games flame to the first of 2,010 torch bearers at an elaborate and colourful ceremony outside the Temple of Heaven in the capital.
"The torch relay is an important part of the build-up to the Games which spreads the Olympic spirit as well as the message of peace and friendship to Asia and even the world," the Games organising committee said in a statement.
Nearly 12,000 athletes from 45 countries and regions will compete for 476 sports titles at the November 12-27 Games in Guangzhou, which sits in the Pearl River Delta, the hub of China's huge export-oriented "workshop of the world".
Organisers say they hope the 2010 Asiad - the world's second-largest sporting event after the Olympics - will help the booming southern metropolis once known as Canton to join the ranks of the world's elite cities.
The Asiad torch relay will be only held in China and will not be extended to other nations in Asia, organisers announced earlier.
The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games torch relay was riddled with controversy after anti-China protests erupted in Europe and the United States during the international legs of the event.