Olympic torch returns to Chinese soil for Hong Kong relay

The Olympic torch relay made its way through downtown Hong Kong Friday, where throngs of supporters waved red flags to cheer on runners carrying the flame.

The Olympic torch relay made its way through downtown Hong Kong Friday, where throngs of supporters waved red flags to cheer on runners carrying the flame.

Dense crowds gathered to watch 120 runners participate in the relay, which was attended by about 52,000 people, according to police. Despite a few confrontations, the event was held without major disruptions.

The leader of the Chinese territory, Donald Tsang, opened up the relay with a speech at a ceremony that used Victoria Harbour and the giant skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island as a backdrop.

"We are a world in a city, where different people with different beliefs and different views have thrived in a spirit of diversity, tolerance and respect," Tsang said.

He said the torch "will continue to blaze a trail, a trail of unity and peace for all people and all nations" as it weaves through China en route to Beijing over the next three months.

Meanwhile, envoys of the Dalai Lama headed to China for talks aimed at ending the crisis in Tibet, the Dalai Lama's office said in a statement Friday.

The two envoys will arrive in China on Saturday for "informal talks with representatives of the Chinese leadership," the statement said.

There was no information on a time or location for the talks.

Beijing has consistently blamed the Dalai Lama for orchestrating a violent protest in the middle of March in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

Chinese state-run media said that at least 22 people were killed and hundreds injured after several days of peaceful demonstrations in Lhasa turned violent on March 14. Tibetan-rights groups say nearly 140 Tibetans were killed.

The Dalai Lama again denied that he instigated the violence, and has urged his followers to show restraint and remain peaceful.

Supporters of the relay in Hong Kong far outnumbered the protesters, some of whom had to seek protection from police. About 3,000 officers had been deployed to stand guard over the eight-hour relay.

Several activists carrying a banner that read, "Return power to the people," willingly sought refuge in a police vehicle when their pro-democracy slogans were overwhelmed with taunts such as "traitor" and "get out!" from a much larger pro-China crowd.

One young woman carrying a Tibetan flag was bustled into a police van after a crowd of about 30 people shouted obscenities at her, pushing and shoving police officers who had surrounded the university student to provide protection.

"What right do they have to take me away? I have a right to express my opinion," Christina Chan, 21, said of the police.

Supportive home crowd

Reporting from Hong Kong, CBC correspondent Anthony Germain said that while emotions were running high with occasional outbursts, the tone of the relay was pro-Olympic and positive — something Beijing, which will host the Summer Games this August, wanted elsewhere but failed to achieve in its ambitious global relay.

The relay has sparked demonstrations in nearly all of its previous stops around the world.

Pro-Tibet activists interrupted the Olympic torch runs in London and Paris to protest against China’s policies, which they say threaten Tibetan culture and autonomy. For its part, China says Tibet is historically located within its borders.

Actress Mia Farrow arrived in Hong Kong this week and is scheduled to speak at the Foreign Correspondents' Club Friday about the situation in Darfur, where about 200,000 Sudanese people have died and 2.5 million have been forced from their homes.

She said she thinks the war in Darfur is an easier issue to lobby China on than Tibet. China is one of Sudan's largest trading partners.

The torch is scheduled to enter mainland China on May 4 for the host country's portion of the relay.

With files from the Associated Press