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Greece passes Olympic flame to Britain

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 8:38 PM EDT, Thu May 17, 2012
Children hold British and Greek flags during the handover ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics in Athens on Thursday.
Children hold British and Greek flags during the handover ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics in Athens on Thursday.
  • The Olympic flame was handed to Britain's Princess Anne in Athens
  • A 70-day torch relay starts Saturday in Land's End, Cornwall
  • The flame was lit a week ago in ancient Olympia and has traveled around Greece
  • Celebrity soccer player David Beckham was also present at the handover ceremony

Athens (CNN) -- Greece handed over the Olympic flame to Britain in an elaborate ceremony Thursday, 71 days before the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Following a display by performers representing the high priestesses of ancient Greece, the torch was accepted by Princess Anne, the British Olympic Association president.

Crowds gathered despite rainy weather to watch the handover in the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.

It was attended by soccer player David Beckham and London's recently re-elected mayor, Boris Johnson, as well as five young Britons picked for their commitment to sport.

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The flame, which has already made a weeklong journey around Greece after being lit at ancient Olympia, birthplace of the Games, will be carried back to the UK by the British delegation on Friday.

The 70-day torch relay around Britain starts Saturday in the far southwest of England, in Land's End, Cornwall.

Along its route, which will take in in towns, villages and cities across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland before reaching London, the torch will pass within 10 miles of 95% of the UK population.

Sebastian Coe, the British Olympian who heads the London 2012 organizing group, said many of the 8,000 torch bearers had inspirational personal stories to share.

The torch relay also will tell the story of a "modern and confident United Kingdom," he said, ahead of Games that he hopes will unite the world in challenging times.

The handover in Athens comes against the backdrop of political and economic turmoil roiling Greece.

A temporary Greek government took office Thursday as the country wrestles with a political crisis that sprang from the country's inability to pay its debts.

CNN's Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.

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