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Page last updated at 11:33 GMT, Friday, 2 May 2008 12:33 UK

Torch cheered through Hong Kong

The torch was carried on horseback, in a dragon boat, and through the streets

Thousands of people turned out to watch the Olympic torch parade in Hong Kong, in a largely trouble-free first stop on the flame's journey through China.

Many people waved Chinese flags and cheered, significantly outnumbering small groups of protesters holding pro-Tibet or pro-democracy placards.

About 3,000 police were on duty for the eight-hour parade.

Before the relay the authorities had denied access to several activists who were intending to protest.

Freedom of speech is protected in the territory by the Basic Law - the mini-constitution agreed before the end of British rule in 1997.

That, says the BBC's Vaudine England, put Hong Kong officials in a bind: they were required to allow for protests, yet were also under a heavy obligation to Beijing to ensure a smooth event.

Demonstrations over China's human rights record have dogged international legs of the relay - sparking anger in China and galvanising popular support for the Beijing Olympics.

But the police easily dealt with small-scale protests in Hong Kong, briefly detaining a handful of people.

The torch was carried by a total of 120 runners during the eight-hour relay leg - the final runner using the flame to light a cauldron on a square overlooking the famed Victoria Harbour.

Red pride

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang kicked off the relay at a ceremony by the harbour.

"We are a world in a city, where different people with different beliefs and different views have thrived in a spirit of diversity, tolerance and respect," he said.

A pro-China supporter stands on Mr Lo's banner calling for free speech

The torch would blaze "a trail of unity and peace" as it passed through China in the coming months, he said.

Thousands of Hong Kong citizens and visitors from the mainland started lining the relay route on Friday morning, as a light rain fell.

People were being encouraged to wear red to show their support for the torch and for China.

Fu Qiang, a mainland student from Xi'an, held a banner calling on China to unite and support the president, Hu Jintao.

"I am here because I think politics should be kept out of sport," the 19-year-old said.

But 20-year-old Lo Waiyin, a Hong Kong student, was harangued by pro-China supporters for bringing a banner that read "Promote Freedom of Speech".

"They say I shouldn't be protesting because I am being disrespectful to China," he said.

The torch will now go to Macau and then begin its journey through more than 100 towns and cities in China on its way to the Olympic stadium in Beijing.

Protesters saw the parade in Hong Kong as the last chance to put pressure on China over its human rights record.

But in the days leading up to the relay, at least seven activists were denied entry to Hong Kong, prompting protests from western diplomats.

Three members of the Students for a Free Tibet campaign told journalists they had been put on a flight from Hong Kong earlier this week.

Actress and campaigner Mia Farrow was allowed in, however. She is due to give a speech critical of China's ties with Sudan later.



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