>Chinese premier Wen Jiabao lit the Beijing Paralympic flame at the ancient Temple of Heaven in Beijing on Thursday, kicking off the torch relay across China before the 13th Paralympics opens on September 6.
In front of the symbolic Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, deaf-mute flame collector Jiang Xintian lit the flame out of a concave, burnished mirror.
The flame was then handed to a girl in wheelchair, before it lit a torch held by Liu Qi, president of the organizing committee of the just concluded Beijing Olympic Games.
Liu passed the torch to Wen Jiabao, who lit a cauldron and announced the beginning of the 9-day torch relay.
The sacred flame will be sent to Xi`an in Northwest China and Shenzhen in the south, where the relay will be launched on Friday and Saturday respectively.
"The flame will symbolize over the next ten days the unique sporting spirit displayed by Paralympic athletes," said Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, at the flame lighting ceremony. "This spirit overcomes many obstacles in the search of sporting excellence."
The Temple of Heaven, a gateway between the earth and the sky in Chinese traditional concept, was the perfect location to light the flame for the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, he said.
A total of 850 torchbearers will participate in the relays along two routes through 11 Chinese provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.
The "Ancient China" route will pass some cities of historic and cultural significance, including Xi`an, Hohhot, Changsha, Nanjing and Luoyang.
The "Modern China" route running through Shenzhen, Wuhan, Shanghai, Qingdao and Dalian will showcase the country`s achievements in its modernization drive in recent decades.
Craven also appreciated Chinese people for portraying the Paralympic values of courage and determination, inspiration and equality during the recent national disasters such as the severe winter storm and devastating May 12 earthquake.
The Chinese capital has just successfully concluded the 29th Olympic Games on August 24.
"We will try our best to prepare for the Paralympic Games and well serve the athletes, coaches and guests," said Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the 29th Olympic Games (BOCOG), at the ceremony. "The Beijing 2008 Paralympics will be a unique Games with high quality."
About 4,000 disabled athletes from around the world will compete in the September 6-17 Games.
The Paralympics carries on the great Olympic spirit and also bears the dream of 650 million disabled in the world, said wheelchaired Deng Pufang, BOCOG executive president and chairman of the China Disabled Persons Federation.
"The torch relay will show the world the consistent efforts a vigorous country with rich heritage has made to promote a harmonious and beautiful world and mutual respect of human being," he said