Olympic torch paraded through Pyongyang

After a tense relay in the South Korean capital Seoul, China's close ally North Korea promised an "astonishing" relay in a country where protesters are usually executed. (Story: J. Jackson)


The Olympic torch will be paraded through the streets of Pyongyang to fawning masses on Monday with North Korea promising its main benefactor China an "astonishing" show certain to be free of protest.

The torch began its two-day journey on the divided Korean peninsula on Sunday where a frenetic and at times violent pro-Beijing rally in the South Korean capital by thousands of flag-waving Chinese students left many Seoul residents angry.

In Seoul, two Chinese were arrested on suspicion of throwing rocks at South Koreans protesting against Chinese treatment of Tibetans and North Koreans fleeing their homes for sanctuary. More than 8,000 police guarded the flame on its journey.

North Korea, which the United States and others say has one of world's the worst human rights records, does not allow rallies that anger Pyongyang's leaders. Rights groups said the North imprisons or executes anyone who steps out of line.

The global torch relay ahead of the Beijing Games in August has prompted protests against China's rights record in Tibet as well as patriotic rallies by Chinese who criticise the West for vilifying Beijing.

The isolated North, which rarely holds international events, has told China it is proud to host the relay. Its official media said the torch bearers include one of the heroes from its 1966 soccer World Cup team and a women's marathon champion.

China's Xinhua news agency quoted a North Korean official as saying the torch relay will "astonish the world".

When North Korea hosts an honoured state visitor, it sends hundreds of thousands of its citizens into the streets of Pyongyang. Dressed in their finest clothes, they wave bouquets of pink and purple plastic flowers and cheer on cue when the guest passes by.

In South Korea, newspapers on Monday were critical of the violence carried out by a few of the Chinese students. For the most part, their rallies were peaceful.

Thousands of Chinese students were bussed in from all parts of South Korea, provided with flags, T-shirts and banners as they shouted pro-Chinese slogans as the torch made its way through Seoul, while many South Koreans turned away.

Internet message boards in one of the world's most wired countries were flooded with comments saying the pro-Beijing display was in bad taste and soured the appetite for the Olympics.

"Kick all the Chinese out this country," read one message. Another said "China has no right to host the Games."

The torch next goes to Vietnam and Hong Kong.

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