London, Aug 31: The Olympic torch relay before the 2012 Olympics will be limited to Britain after protests spoiled the worldwide relay ahead of the Beijing Games.
Tessa Jowell, the Olympics minister, told The Sunday Times that she had "a lot of enthusiasm" for the idea of the torch being taken round the "villages, towns and cities in the UK". Jowell, unveiling plans for four years of lead-up events, starting next month, said in an interview: "There would be no more powerful way of making them feel part of the Olympics, would there?"
Although welcoming the world will be one of the themes of the Cultural Olympiad that begins on the weekend of September 26, the torch relay is set to be restricted to Britain.
China's decision to take the torch around the world turned into a global protest by pro-Tibet campaigners, who tried to wrestle the torch from the hands of runners on stages in Europe.
The Beijing torch was surrounded by tracksuit-wearing security minders on its troubled passage around the globe.
The plans for Britain's Olympics, to be decared this week, show an effort to create a more welcoming atmosphere.
A week ahead of the opening ceremony on July 27, 2012, two days of free performances will take place on five stages along the Thames representing the continents and Olympic rings.
The World River weekend will mark the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad, which begins, with the Open Weekend next month.
Events include the illumination of Windsor Castle and other landmarks in the colours of London 2012.
Highlights over the coming four years will include festivals, free performances and the commissioning of a series of public works of art in each of the nine English regions, and one each in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
These will become national focal points for the Olympic celebrations and new works could include sculptures on the scale of the 65ft-high Angel of the North.
Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst could be among those approached to help the Arts Council choose winners from ideas submitted.
Jowell also disclosed that organisers have shaved 1.5 billion pounds off the cost of the Games by simplifying the design of the main stadium and aquatic centre, and reducing the size of the Olympic Park.
She admitted more money than originally predicted would be needed, but insisted the total cost to taxpayers would not rise above the 9.3 billion pounds budget.
"There's no more money. None from the taxpayer, none from the lottery, none from the government," she said.
Jowell, who has returned from three weeks in Beijing, said there were lessons to be learnt from China's experience.
Although the 2008 Games were acclaimed as the most spectacular ever, there were empty seats at events, security was often overzealous, and the opening and closing shows were considered too long.
Jowell believes there is a "good case" for staging shorter ceremonies and has staked her reputation on ensuring venues are packed.
"My ambition is to see seats filled, every Londoner having the opportunity to see some event, and people being able to come from around the country. It's not simple, but we are determined to crack this," she said.