The first leg of the Olympic torch relay on Chinese soil has ended without disruption. Thousands of flag-waving supporters cheered on Hong Kong’s torch bearers. But there were some voices of protest to be heard.
The first leg of the Olympic relay on Chinese soil passed without disruption
“Go China go!” thousands of people shouted along the route of the torch relay in Hong Kong on Friday. Many were clad in red and waved Chinese flags to show their support for the Beijing Olympics.
Many had come from mainland China for the event, such as an 11-year-old girl from neighbouring Guangzhou province, who came with her mother, brother and grandmother.
She said she was “very happy” to be there are see the torch.
Some dissenting voices
But while Hong Kong’s 120 torch runners mainly heard supportive cheers along the route, there were also a few scattered protests.
Some pro-democracy supporters from Hong Kong demanded the release of political prisoners, such as human rights activist Hu Jia.
They said that Beijing had promised to develop human rights and democracy when it was awarded the Olympic Games seven years ago and that it should fulfil that promise.
At the start of the torch relay, there were some minor scuffles between pro-Tibet activists and pro-Beijing supporters. Several activists were taken away in a police van -- for their own protection, according to the Hong Kong police.
Under pressure from Beijing to organize a smooth event, the Hong Kong government had denied entry to several foreign activists over the past week.
One of them was Danish artist Jens Galschiot. A Danish cameraman accompanying him, Niels Madsen, was able to enter Hong Kong. He said he had not expected Hong Kong to turn away rights activists. “Before we left, I considered Hong Kong a kind of democratic island.”
Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to China in 1997. But the city’s constitution guarantees civil liberties not available in the rest of China -- such as free speech and the right to demonstrate.
Mia Farrow protests
One activist who did manage to get through immigration was Hollywood actress Mia Farrow. Speaking at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Hong Kong on Friday, she urged Beijing to use its power to help bring peace to Sudan’s Darfur region before the Olympics.
She also said she did not support a boycott of the Olympics. However, she did call on heads of states to refrain from attending the opening ceremony of the Olympics, saying this “would send a clear signal to Beijing that their policy on certain issues is simply not acceptable.”
Farrow came to Hong Kong for the finish of an alternative torch relay, which honours people who have been killed in Darfur.