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Divided Korean Peninsula Hosts a Tale of Two Torch Relays


The divided Korean peninsula recently became the backdrop for a "tale of two torch rallies". The Beijing Olympic torch was ceremoniously run through the capitals of both North and South Korea. The South, with its decades-long history of democratic protest, saw clashes between human rights demonstrators and Chinese students. The North, which severely punishes even mild dissent, gave the torch a rare, problem-free celebration. VOA's Kurt Achin has more.

Thousands upon thousands of Chinese students traveled to Seoul from all around South Korea Sunday to support the relay of the Beijing Olympic torch through the capital city.

Amidst a sea of Chinese flags and painted faces, the mood was basically that of a party, but this crowd also had some political muscles it was determined to flex.

The Olympic torch has been disrupted in other world cities by demonstrators critical of China's human rights practices-- especially its forceful suppression of demonstrations in Tibet. The Chinese students said they were determined not to allow such distractions here.

Meanwhile, group of about 50 protesters hoped to draw attention to another human rights issue, Beijing's forced repatriation of North Korean refugees who flee repression and severe food shortages by crossing the Chinese border.

Hundreds of South Korean riot police kept the two groups apart, but it did not prevent shouting matches across the street.

The torch itself was rapidly whisked into motion behind a small army of police on foot, backed by even more officers riding bicycles, motorcycles, and crowd control vehicles.

The Chinese students then broke police lines, storming the North Korea protest across the street - sweeping journalists along in the tide.

Hurled objects began flying, injuring at least one cameraman. Human rights protesters later displayed a pile of objects they say the Chinese students threw. South Korean Foreign Ministry officials have since complained to China about the day's incidents.

Two attempts to disrupt the torch in Seoul failed. It reached a Seoul city plaza for a celebration awash in symbols of South Korean pop culture and corporate sponsorship.

A completely different image of the torch's relay played out Monday in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. The communist North, closely allied with China and technically at war with the South, tolerates absolutely no dissent from official government policy.

Far from protesting, tens of thousands of North Koreans waved bouquets of flowers named after members of the communist country's ruling Kim family.

The torch motorcade was completely unmolested, and was able to take its time as it wove through the Pyongyang streets for a ceremony at North Korea's "Juche Tower," named after the country's official philosophy of self-reliance.

Even before the relay took place, North Korean official media promised the relay would come off in "the smoothest possible way." Pyongyang's relay certainly lived up to that promise, giving Beijing officials a rare moment of peace along a very turbulent torch route around the world.

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