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Massive Chinese Crowds Overwhelm Olympic Torch Protests in South Korea

The Beijing Olympic torch relay has been successfully completed in South Korea, despite attempts by protesters to disrupt it. Chinese students by the thousands confronted human-rights protesters in the South Korean capital, leading to several clashes. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin has more.

Scuffles broke out at several points between protesters criticizing the Olympic torch relay in Seoul, and massive numbers of Chinese students who rallied behind it.

An estimated 10,000 Chinese students chanted the Mandarin equivalent of "Go, China!" and flooded Seoul's Olympic Park with a sea of waving Chinese flags. The park was the starting point for Sunday's massively guarded foot relay of the torch across the city.

The students outnumbered a small protest of about 50 people taking place nearby to criticize China's human-rights policies.

Kwon Shin-woong, a North Korean defector, said the protesters want to draw attention to China's treatment of North Korean refugees.

He says China sends North Korean escapees back home against their will, and that means they are as good as dead. That, he says, is what today's protest is about.

At least 100,000 North Koreans are believed to have fled to China to escape repression and severe food shortages back home. Those who are discovered are sent back to North Korea to face severe punishment or execution. Many of those who are not discovered are deprived of education and basic services, or end up in abusive situations such as the sex trade.

The torch was quickly whisked away from the park. Runners bearing it were guarded by a phalanx of senior police officers on foot and in vehicles.

Scuffles broke out when Chinese students broke a police line and approached protesters. Although police soon regained control of the event, one South Korean elderly man was kicked and beaten. A number of objects were also thrown at the protesters.

One Chinese doctoral student said the crowd was not looking for a fight - but only wanted to counterbalance what he described as anti-Chinese media bias.

"We just want a peaceful Olympics. But many people in the West, maybe including Korean people, want to attack us, and to distort some information," said a student.

A protester attempted to disrupt the torch relay enroute, but was quickly subdued by police. Another man was prevented in an attempt to light himself on fire in protest.

The torch relay has been disrupted in other major cities, mainly by protesters condemning Chinese policies in Tibet. Supporters of Tibetan autonomy held what they called a "peace torch rally" in a Seoul city park.

The Olympic torch is expected to have a much smoother route on Monday, when it will be run through the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. The North's authoritarian regime is closely allied with China and punishes even mild displays of public dissent with labor camp internment or execution.