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Page last updated at 07:47 GMT, Monday, 28 April 2008 08:47 UK

N Korean crowds hail torch relay

Former footballer Pak Do-ik in Pyongyang, 28/04
Former footballer Pak Do-ik kicked off the relay

Tens of thousands of flag-waving North Koreans have lined the streets of Pyongyang for the parade of the Olympic flame along a 20km (12 mile) route.

Correspondents say this has been the least contentious stop on the torch's journey to Beijing.

Human rights campaigners and pro-Tibet protesters have dogged its progress through some other countries, ahead of this summer's Games in China's capital.

But Pyongyang backs China's policy in Tibet and tolerates no public protest.

The hardline communist state has strongly criticised the anti-Chinese protests that took place in Europe and the US.

This is the first time the Olympic torch has come to North Korea.

Flower-waving

The head of North Korea's parliament, Kim Yong Nam, officiating at the starting ceremony. Leader Kim Jong-il was not seen at the event.

The first runner was Pak Do-ik, who played in North Korea's football team when it claimed a legendary victory against Italy in the 1966 World Cup.

"I, as the first torch runner, will keep the beautiful memory deep in my heart forever," he said.

Olympic flags in Pyongyang (27/4)
Flags were set up in Pyongyang for the Olympics torch relay

A peaceful crowd, some waving Chinese flags, watched the start of the relay, and thousands more people, waving pink paper flowers and chanting "Welcome" lined the torch's route.

The BBC's John Sudworth, in Seoul, says the authorities easily marshalled the kind of unanimous support for the Olympic torch that has been so often lacking elsewhere on its route.

The flame arrived in the North Korean capital from South Korea, where it had been greeted by thousands of flag-waving Chinese students, who far outnumbered human rights protesters.

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

There were some minor scuffles but the 8,000 police deployed along the route kept disruption to a minimum.

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

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.




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