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Page last updated at 13:53 GMT, Sunday, 27 April 2008 14:53 UK

Scuffles at South Korea torch leg

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Scuffles between pro-China and pro-Tibet protesters

Pro and anti-China demonstrators have clashed in South Korea's capital, Seoul, during the latest leg of the Olympic torch's journey to Beijing.

Rights protesters were targeted by Chinese students, who outnumbered their rivals along the 24-km (15-mile) relay route from Olympic Park to City Hall.

The protests had been against China's forced repatriation of North Korean refugees and its crackdown in Tibet.

The clashes came despite the deployment of 8,000 police to ensure calm.

Police struggled to contain thousands of flag-waving China supporters who chanted slogans and threw rocks at demonstrators denouncing the torch relay.

Meanwhile, a second Olympic flame arrived at Mount Everest base camp in Tibet.

Nagano clashes

Security for the Seoul relay was tight, and included 120 police runners and a helicopter.

South Korean authorities had warned anyone trying to disrupt the relay would be severely punished, and police had to restrain one North Korean defector who tried to set himself on fire to halt the procession.

A Chinese student kicks a South Korean demonstrator in Seoul, 27 April, 2008
Anti-China protesters were targeted by Chinese students during the relay

The torch had arrived in South Korea from Japan, where four people were injured and five men arrested in scuffles.

More than 3,000 police could not stop Japanese nationalists and pro-Tibet activists clashing with pro-Chinese groups in the mountain resort of Nagano on Saturday.

A coalition of human rights groups in South Korea had warned of similar scenes during the relay in central Seoul, and protesters had threatened to stop the Olympic beacon crossing one of the main river bridges in the city.

But they were vastly outnumbered by the thousands of Chinese people who study or work in South Korea who had taken to the streets to welcome the torch.

The US embassy had cautioned its citizens in Seoul to avoid unnecessary travel during the relay, which started shortly after 1400 local time (0600 BST).

In addition to protests against the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the relay is also seen as an opportunity to raise the issue of China's policy of repatriating North Korean defectors.

China tries to promote itself as a civilised nation but what it's doing to [North Korean] defectors is uncivilised
Kim Sang-chul
Human rights lawyer

Human rights lawyer Kim Sang-chul told Yonhap, a South Korean news agency, that China had repatriated 75,000 North Koreans over the past 15 years.

"China tries to promote itself as a civilised nation but what it's doing to the defectors is uncivilised," he said.

Next stop north

The torch will now travel to North Korea and Vietnam before arriving on Chinese soil.

The BBC's John Sudworth in Seoul says Monday's Pyongyang leg is guaranteed to be trouble-free.

North Korea tolerates no public protest and the torch will be greeted by hundreds of thousands of people in a choreographed mass display of flower-waving, he says.

Protests elsewhere on the torch's progress have turned the celebratory tour of 20 countries into what analysts describe as a public-relations disaster for Beijing.

Demonstrations in Athens, London, Paris and San Francisco have dominated media coverage of the relay.

But the flame has made relatively peaceful progress through other cities, including Bangkok in Thailand and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

The second flame, on a separate journey to the torch that is circumnavigating the globe, is due to be transported to Mount Everest by a team of climbers sometime next month.

Olympic organisers hope it will add a new dimension to the relay that has sparked protests around the world, reports say.

Beijing has imposed tight control on Tibet since anti-Chinese rioting broke out in Lhasa last month.




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