The torch of the Beijing Olympic Games arrived in Hong Kong Wednesday where authorities are being criticized for barring more than half a dozen activists from the port city and relay.

Since late last week, authorities in Hong Kong have denied at least seven individuals entry to the city.

Friday's scheduled relay in Hong Kong was expected to offer pro-Tibet protesters and other critics of China their last chance to rally against Beijing before it moves on to the mainland.

Now, the city's apparent efforts to clamp down ahead of the relay and bar potential protesters are raising questions about its commitment to freedom of speech.

Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, but was promised that it would be allowed to maintain its free economy and press, and greater civil liberties than found on the mainland.

The torch has been at the center of persistent protests as it has trekked across the globe.

Relays in several countries have ignited protests over Beijing's human rights record and its crackdown on recent unrest in Tibet and other Tibetan regions of China.

An elaborate red carpet ceremony marked the torch's arrival at Hong Kong's airport Wednesday, with cheering supporters waving Chinese flags. The torch arrived from Vietnam, the final international stop of its journey.

On Tuesday, at least three pro-Tibet campaigners were deported from Hong Kong and an activist with an independent Chinese writers' group was also expelled from the territory.

Last Saturday, three human rights activists from overseas were denied entry. The activists were planning to protest during the May 2 relay of the torch.


Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.