Chinese cheer torch's return in Macao
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Hundreds of Chinese supporters greeted the Olympic torch's return to mainland China, shouting "Go Bejing Go." Meanwhile, the flame's progression to the top of Mount Everest was halted by heavy snowfalls. (Report: V.Giebel, K.Williams)
MACAU - The Olympic torch was paraded through Macau on Saturday after a protest-harried overseas relay, while snowfall on Mount Everest dealt a blow to climbers hoping to take a special flame to the roof of the world.
The torch's five-continent journey was dogged by demonstrations, mostly over China's crackdown against protests in Tibet, which deeply embarrassed Beijing and provoked retaliatory rallies at home and abroad by patriotic Chinese.
Security has been tightened in mainland China, where the ruling Communist Party brooks no opposition, so the main threat after the torch leaves Macau for a run through every Chinese province is likely to be the weather.
Beijing lambasted the Dalai Lama, whom it blames for inciting the Tibet protests, as a criminal on Saturday as representatives of the exiled Buddhist leader prepared for talks with Chinese officials about the most serious unrest in Tibet for nearly two decades.
Hundreds of patriotic torch supporters gathered in Macau at Fisherman's Wharf, waving China flags and shouting "Go Beijing Go" as the flame began its latest leg.
Some students from the University of Macau staged a small protest near the ferry terminal, brandishing "Anti-CNN" placards to slam the broadcaster's perceived bias in its coverage of the Tibetan riots and crackdown by authorities.
"We want everyone to know that China is developing, that China is advancing. We don't want the media to twist their reports on China," said Johnson Zhang, one of the students.
Macau is home to a booming casino industry which is fuelled in large part by money from across the border in China.
Casino magnate Stanley Ho, 86 and an avid swimmer, was the oldest torchbearer and he said his 200 metres was too short.
"I play tennis and dance every now and then," Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying. "Thus running such a short distance was a small case for me."
People in the tropical resort city of Sanya, on the southern tip of Hainan island and the first place the torch will reach in China proper, were gearing up to greet the relay on Sunday.
"As a Chinese, I feel very proud," said Sanya resident Gao Li, his eyes moist, after unveiling a large red banner reading "2008 Go China" on the beach front, where the torch will pass on its long journey to August's Beijing Games.
Security was low key, though organisers are carefully controlling who will be allowed in to see the torch run start, on a man-made island just off Sanya, limiting places to a few hundred selected officials, media and other guests.
Meteorologists expect showers in the coming days across much of Hainan and relay organisers have prepared raincoats for the torch runners, a Website of state news agency Xinhua said.
A bold plan to take a separate Olympic torch to the top of Mount Everest faced a possible setback on Saturday as snow fell on the world's highest mountain.
The climbing team has been at 6,500 metres (21,300 ft) in advanced base camp or higher for at least two days, waiting for better weather to aim for the 8,848-metre (29,030-foot) peak.
"In my experience, in heavy snow you could make a decision to retreat or abandon, but I don't know the conditions up the mountain so it's difficult to say," said Beijing organising committee consultant Liu Jian.
Flag-waving crowds cheered on Friday as the torch made its way across Hong Kong unmolested. A handful of demonstrations called for better protection of human rights, religious freedom and democracy in China along the route.
The former British colony took an uncharacteristically tough line against would-be torch protesters, barring several people from abroad from entering the city.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Macau, for centuries a Portuguese-run enclave of China, returned to Chinese control two years later. Both now have wide-ranging autonomy.
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