Image: A worker plants cypress trees in ancient Olympia
Yiorgos Karahalis  /  Reuters file
A worker plants cypress trees behind an altar at the Pierre de Coubertin monument in ancient Olympia.
updated 3/3/2008 1:23:30 PM ET 2008-03-03T18:23:30

Greece's culture minister on Monday said Ancient Olympia is ready to host a flame-lighting ceremony for the Beijing Olympics on March 24, after a project to restore land damaged during deadly wildfires last summer.

"We didn't want to create some kind of virtual reality for the cameras. ... We have made great progress in restoring the natural environment," Michalis Liapis said while visiting Olympia.

"We are ready to receive the Chinese delegation to hand over the flame ... at a ceremony in keeping with spirit of the Olympic Games."

Liapis said more than 30,000 trees and shrubs had been planted in areas burned during the massive wildfires that killed 66 people and ravaged southern Greece.

Greece's Olympic Committee had publicly expressed frustration at the slow pace of the restoration effort, but Committee President Minos Kyriakou on Monday praised the project overall.

"What we've seen happen here is really a miracle, considering the hell that we lived through last August," Kyriakou said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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