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Pro-Tibet protester hassled as Hong Kong torch relay begins

May 4, 2008


HONG KONG May 2, 2008 (AP) — The Olympic torch began its relay through
Hong Kong Friday before a flag-waving crowd that heckled a pro-Tibetan
protester and jostled the police officers protecting her.

Officers eventually put university student Christina Chan into a police
van and took her to a police station to protect her from the crowd. Many
yelled obscenities and about 30 people pushed and shoved a dozen police
surrounding her.

Chan was part of a small group of protesters who held Tibetan flags and
signs calling for democracy and human rights in China but were far
outnumbered by the pro-China crowd.

Chan said she didn't mind the hostile crowd, but she was upset about the
police protection.

"What right do they have to take me away? I have a right to express my
opinion," said Chan, 21.

Another group of seven pro-democracy activists were overwhelmed by torch
supporters, who drowned out their slogans with insults like "running
dog," "traitor" and "get out!" The activists, holding a banner that said
"Return power to the people," were surrounded by 80 police and
eventually ducked into a police vehicle for protection.

Many torch supporters were apparently from the mainland because they
chanted slogans and hurled insults in Mandarin, not the local Cantonese

The eight-hour relay through canyons of skyscrapers was expected to be a
big challenge for the leaders and police in the Chinese territory. The
torch was finally back on Chinese soil, and Beijing wanted no repeat of
the protests and chaos that disrupted the flame during its 20-nation
overseas tour.'

Despite the streetside tensions, the first half of the relay went
smoothly on roads soaked by a morning drizzle.

Everyone was encouraged to wear red to show their support for the torch,
and about 3,000 police were deployed to defend the flame.

Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang kicked off the relay with a speech at a
ceremony with Victoria Harbor and the stunning skyscrapers on Hong Kong
Island as a backdrop.

"We are a world in a city, where different people with different beliefs
and different views have thrived in a spirit of diversity, tolerance and
respect," Tsang said.

Tsang said that as the torch works its way through China toward Beijing
in the next three months, "it will continue to blaze a trail, a trail of
unity and peace for all people and all nations."

Two hours before the relay began, people started lining up along the
streets near the start of the event in the bustling tourist shopping
district of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon.

As a light rain fell, some spectators had big Chinese flags, while
others carried protest signs. One woman had an orange sign that said,
"Olympic flame for democracy," while a man carried a poster with a tank
and the slogan "One world, two dreams."

Chan wrapped the Tibetan snow lion flag around her body and later began
waving it. China's recent crackdown on Tibet has inspired many of the
protests against the torch overseas.

Several onlookers heckled Chan, shouting "What kind of Chinese are you?"
and "What a shame!"

The 21-year-old Chan said, "Why can't we just respect each other and
express our views."

Hong Kong was a British colony until the city was handed back to China
in 1997. Although Beijing makes all the big political decisions, Hong
Kong was promised a wide degree of autonomy under a formula called "one
country, two systems."

The media are allowed to criticize the leaders, massive street protests
have been held demanding greater democracy, and English is still the
official language in the courts, where judges wear British-style wigs.

But for special events such as the Olympic torch relay, Hong Kong leans
more toward the "one country" part of the formula than the "two systems"
part. In the past week, authorities used a blacklist to stop seven
pro-Tibet and human rights activists at the airport. After questioning,
they were deported.

It's a tactic the authorities have used before for other events,
especially those involving high-ranking Chinese leaders. They decline to
explain the deportations, saying it's a private matter.

Many thought that actress Mia Farrow might be turned away at the airport
when she arrived to give a speech critical of China's ties with Sudan.
After reaching the immigration desk to get her passport stamped,
officials escorted her away to discuss her plans.

"They wanted some reassurance that we were not here to disrupt the torch
relay, which of course we are not," Farrow told reporters.

In a later interview with The Associated Press, Farrow said immigration
officials treated her politely and didn't search her luggage. But she
said they gave her a statement warning her not to disrupt law and order.

Farrow was scheduled to speak about Sudan at the Foreign Correspondents'
Club on Friday. She also planned to light a symbolic torch honoring the
victims of fighting in Darfur, a region in Sudan where about 200,000
people have died and 2.5 million have been forced from their homes amid
four years of fighting between local rebels and government-allied militias.

China has been one of Sudan's biggest trading partners, buying oil from
the African nation and selling it weapons. Farrow has joined activists
in demanding Beijing use its influence to pressure Sudan to stop the

She told the AP she thinks Darfur is an easier issue to lobby China on
than Tibet.

"For China, Darfur is what we call the low-hanging fruit. It's easy
picking. For the Tibetans, it's more difficult, given China's view of
Tibet and the many years that China has held this view," she said,
adding that she sympathizes with the Tibetan cause.

Beijing insists that Tibet is historically part of China, but many
Tibetans argue the region was virtually independent for centuries.

A separate flame to the one that made its way around the world and
reached Hong Kong on Wednesday is being taken up Mount Everest. Chinese
officials are being guarded about the climb, and did not offer a report
on its progress Thursday.

China's recent crackdown on Tibet inspired several of the torch relay
protests in major cities such as Paris, London and San Francisco. Many
Chinese were still upset about an incident in Paris in which a pro-Tibet
protester tried to grab the torch from a wheelchair-bound Chinese athlete.

Much of the anger has been directed at French retailer Carrefour.
Tempers flared again Thursday when small groups of people protested at
Carrefour stores in Beijing and other cities. No violence was reported
and police dispersed the gatherings.

One Beijing protester said, "We want to let all foreigners know that
China is very angry today. We have to let Chinese people in China know
that we are united."
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