Tense Bangkok torch relay ends

The heavily-guarded Bangkok relay came to an end on Saturday as the Olympic flame completed its relatively uneventful 10 km run despite noisy demonstrations by pro-Tibet and Chinese supporters.


The Bangkok leg of the protest-hit Beijing Olympic torch relay ended Saturday, largely free of trouble with Thai security and pro-Chinese groups outnumbering a small rally by Tibet activists.

The relay began with a colourful launch in Bangkok's Chinatown, and snaked past historical landmarks in the government district, where groups of pro-Tibet and pro-Chinese protesters screamed slogans at each other.

A senior police official estimated that thousands of people turned out to see the torch, which was guarded by about 2,000 police as Thailand shielded the relay from protests that dogged early legs in Europe.

There were no arrests, police said, after the torch ended its 10-kilometre (six-mile) run at a plaza near the Royal Palace.

"The Olympic torch relay was successful and in accordance with the Olympiad spirit," General Yuthasak Sasiprapha, chairman of the Thai Olympic Council, said.

"I hope that the rest of the torch relay will be success, until the torch returns to Beijing."

Also Saturday, police and witnesses reported that hundreds of Chinese citizens protested in Beijing and several other cities across China against France's attitude towards Tibet and the Olympic Games.

Anti-French sentiment in China has been on the rise since the chaotic leg of the Paris Olympic torch relay on April 7, where demonstrators protested against China's recent crackdown on protests in Tibet.

In Bangkok, about 100 pro-Tibet protesters gathered at the United Nations headquarters, waving banners reading: "Free Tibet," "Stop Killing in Tibet," and "We don't want your flame of shame."

They were outnumbered by about 300 pro-Chinese protesters in red shirts -- mostly Chinese students -- waving Olympic and Chinese flags and shouting "China, come on!" and "Olympics, come on!"

Police kept the two groups separated as the torch passed without incident.

"The torch is the Chinese soul," said Wang Yi, 18-year-old exchange student from Beijing.

Members of the pro-Tibet group said they thought the Chinese students were trying to provoke them.

"I was rather afraid, but I knew that this could happen because my friends had warned me that there were some arranged protests," said Pokpong Lawansiri of Thailand's Free Tibet Network.

"We came here to demonstrate for human rights. We call for the Chinese government to show respect for human rights," he told AFP.

Thailand -- which has close relations with China -- had warned that they would arrest, prosecute and deport any foreign nationals breaking the law to protest Beijing's human rights record.

"We reaffirm our position that we clearly separate politics and sport," Deputy Prime Minister Sanan Kachornprasart said at the relay launch ceremony, where acrobats and Chinese dragons entertained the crowds.

China's communist rulers had hoped the Olympic Games would showcase the nation's much-touted "peaceful rise" to power, but the torch relay that began in Greece last month has instead become a high-profile target for activists.

A crackdown on protests against Chinese rule of Tibet in March has put the spotlight on China's heavily criticised record on human rights.

On Thursday, hundreds of protesters were reportedly arrested in India and Nepal ahead of the relay in New Delhi.

Beijing suffered another blow to the torch relay on Friday, when a Buddhist temple in the Japanese city of Nagano pulled out of hosting a ceremony for the flame, citing concern over the situation in Tibet.

In Malaysia, where the flame arrives early Sunday, authorities will deploy an elite police squad along with 1,000 police officers to protect the torch, The Star daily reported Saturday.

The torch relay also includes stops in Indonesia, Australia, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam before heading to China.

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