Olympic torch arrives in South Korea

The Olympic torch arrived in South Korea for one of the last legs of its worldwide journey to Beijing. At least four people were injured during the torch relay in Japan, where pro-Chinese and pro-Tibet protesters clashed again.


The Beijing Olympic torch arrived in South Korea early Sunday on one of the final legs of its troubled worldwide journey, South Korean and Chinese officials said.

"A chartered plan carrying the torch arrived at Incheon airport, west of Seoul, at 12:58 am (1558 GMT Saturday)," a Korea Olympic Committee official told AFP.

Chinese embassy spokesman Chen Jun Jie also confirmed the flame's arrival.

Police maintained tight security at the airport and escorted a convoy carrying the torch to downtown Seoul, officials said.

The torch arrived from Japan, where protesters hurled rubbish and flares at it on Saturday and brawled with Chinese supporters. At least four people were injured in the scuffles in the mountain resort of Nagano.

Earlier legs of the torch relay were also hit by protests, particularly in London and Paris.

Activists protesting against China's crackdown in Tibet and its policy of repatriating North Korean refugees have promised similar scenes in South Korea.

A coalition of 63 rights, religious and conservative groups have said thousands are expected to demonstrate.

Some 8,300 police officers will be deployed along the 24-kilometre (15-mile) relay route from Olympic Park to City Hall in central Seoul. The relay is scheduled to start at 2:00 pm (0500 GMT) and end at 7:00 pm.

"Those who attempt to stop the relay will surely be arrested on the site and given stern punishment," a National Police Agency official said.

The tight security includes 20 police officers on bicycles and 120 police runners who will surround the Olympic flame, backed by officers on motorcycles, and in cars and helicopters.

North Korean defectors plan to block bridges over the broad Han River, which the runners are scheduled to use. "We're going to try to stop the relay at all costs," said Han Chang-Kwon, who represents a defectors' group.

"We have prepared several units of defectors who will desperately try to stop the progress of the relay when it crosses one of the main bridges."

Human Rights Watch, a US-based rights group, said Seoul's government should use the occasion to urge Beijing to change its policy of repatriating North Korean refugees, who can face harsh punishment or even death on their return.

Many of the thousands of Chinese studying or working in South Korea also plan to turn out to welcome the torch, said Liu Yen of the Chinese Resident's Association Seoul Korea.

"We'll hold welcoming placards high and wave our national flags," she told Yonhap news agency Friday.

Dozens of activists rallied Saturday near Olympic Park ahead of the ceremonial torch run.

"We're going to try to stop the relay," said refugee Choi Hye-Jeong, who tearfully added she was tortured by North Korean authorities when Chinese officials forced her to return to her country several years ago.

"I get enraged every time I think of what they did to me. I won't let this relay happen as planned," she told Yonhap, holding a cardboard sheet bearing anti-Chinese and anti-North Korean slogans.

Human rights lawyer Kim Sang-Chul said China has repatriated some 75,000 North Koreans over the last 15 years and vowed to stop the torch.

"China tries to promote itself as a civilised nation but what it's doing to the defectors is uncivilised," he said.

The torch heads late Sunday to North Korea, a close ally of China that has strongly criticised the overseas protests.

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