Cheers outweigh protest at Hong Kong's Olympic torch relay
Proud citizens welcomed the flame back to China Friday, but critics say the autonomous city deferred to Beijing by barring some activists.
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Among those voices are followers of the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned elsewhere in China as a deviant cult. Labor activists trying to aid workers across the border in Guangdong's export factories that feed American stores also use Hong Kong as a base of operations.Skip to next paragraph
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On Friday, though, it was China's policies in restless Tibet that proved the most inflammatory target for protest. As waiting crowds in red T-shirts and waving Chinese flags began to swell along a section of the torch route, Virginia Yue, an IT professional, stood holding a Tibetan flag in a solo protest. Others carried slogans criticizing China's human rights record and calling for direct elections in Hong Kong.
Ms. Yue said she didn't want to confront the jubilant pro-Olympics crowd but to raise an "uncomfortable issue" for China. "I'm not here to outnumber or out-shout them. I'm here to be peaceful," she said.
But the arrival of several more protesters, including a student who draped a Tibetan flag around her and shouted slogans, jolted the crowd. Dozens of young men began chanting abuse and confronting the group. Police broke up scuffles before bundling the protesters into a van, saying it was for their own protection. They were later released without charge.
Shortly after, an Olympics relay runner flanked by Chinese men in sky-blue tracksuits and police motorbikes passed the spot, drawing huge cheers as onlookers held camera-phones aloft. Many banged inflatable plastic tubes handed out by Olympics brand-name sponsors and chanted "Go China!"
Watching the scene was Sissy Wong, a student from Shenzhen, a border city in China. "I'm very proud to be Chinese," she said. Asked about the pro-Tibetan protesters, she said the Olympics should be free from politics and emphasized her pride in China as the host (Hong Kong is hosting the equestrian events).
Other spectators were more blunt. "Everyone should be supporting China in holding the Olympics ... [the protesters] know nothing about human rights," says Kevin Ye, sporting a Chinese flag sticker on his face.
Across the city at another vantage point along the torch's day-long crawl, Joseph Kun, a lawyer, offers a different view. He insists that Hong Kong needs to safeguard its freedoms of speech and assembly and not block peaceful protest when the Olympics spotlight is on.
"We're supposed to be 'one country, two systems,' " he says, referring to the formula agreed by Chinese rulers before the 1997 handover. "That means we manage our own autonomy. We should show the world we're different from the Communist regime."