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Thousands Cheer Olympic Torch Relay in Hong Kong


The first leg of the Olympic torch relay on Chinese soil has ended relatively trouble-free. Runners carrying the Olympic flame in Hong Kong were mainly greeted by supportive cheers. But as Claudia Blume reports from Hong Kong, there were a few voices of protest.

Thousands of people, many of them clad in red T-shirts and waving giant Chinese flags, lined the route of the torch relay in Hong Kong on Friday, shouting slogans such as "Go China go!".

Many had come from mainland China for the event, such as this 20-year-old student from Guangzhou province, who had come with a group of 200 young people.

She says she is very happy to be here. She says she supports the Olympic Games and that she feels honored to be at this event.

While Hong Kong's 120 torch runners mainly heard supportive cheers along the route, there were a few scattered protests. These pro-democracy supporters from Hong Kong demanded the release of political prisoners, such as human rights activist Hu Jia.

This activist says Beijing promised to develop human rights and democracy when it was awarded the Olympic Games seven years ago and that it should fulfill that promise.

At the start of the relay, there were minor scuffles between Tibet activists and pro-Beijing supporters. Several activists were taken away in a police van - for their own protection, according to the police.

Three thousand police were on duty on Friday to prevent a repeat of the chaotic scenes that accompanied torch relays in cities such as Paris and London.

Under pressure from Beijing to organize a smooth event, the Hong Kong government denied entry to several foreign activists in the past week - angering local rights groups.

The former British colony was returned to China in 1997. But the city's constitution guarantees civil liberties not available in the rest of China - such as free speech and the right to demonstrate.

One activist who managed to get through immigration was American actress Mia Farrow. Speaking at the Foreign Correspondent's Club in Hong Kong on Friday, she urged Beijing to use its power to help bring peace to Sudan's Darfur region. She said she does not support a boycott of the Olympics but wants heads of state to stay away from the opening ceremony.

"For our leaders to refrain to attend the opening ceremony would send a clear signal to Beijing that their policy on certain issues is simply not acceptable," Farrow said.

Farrow and other activists say that China, which buys oil from Sudan and sells Sudan its goods, should use its economic and diplomatic clout to pressure the Khartoum government to end years of violence and abuse in Darfur.