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Tuesday, May 23, 2000
Calm urged in spats over torch lighting ceremony

  ATHENS (AP) -- Greece's culture minister pleaded today for a truce to a public spat over the handling of the scandal-ridden Olympic flame lighting ceremony.

  The complaints and blame-trading over the May 10 event threaten to sidetrack 2004 Olympic planning at a time of intense scrutiny by the International Olympic Committee, which has put Athens on notice that swift action is needed to keep preparations on track.

  "I would recommend coolness," said Culture Minister Theodoros Pangalos, whose office is in charge of sports. "The organization of the lighting ceremony was extremely bad ... but I think to keep the discussion open and on a personal level for a long time is not favourable."

  The Olympic flame failed to light by the sun's rays after the ceremony ran too long and clouds rolled in, forcing the use of a flame ignited during a practice session.

  Government officials also were furious over a string of embarrassments, including a band that played out of tune and the huge backlash after the daughter of IOC vice-president Kevan Gosper was inserted at the last minute as the first Australian torch bearer.

  "The (flame lighting) ceremony was, to say the least, unacceptable," Athens Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos said. "How can we be expected to organize Olympic games if we can't get the ceremony right?"

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