Page last updated at 12:41 GMT, Friday, 2 May 2008 13:41 UK

Olympic torch gets warm HK welcome

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Hong Kong

Pro-China supporters, democracy activists and lone protesters all made their voices heard when the Olympic torch was relayed through Hong Kong.

HK's chief executive Donald Tsang (left) and Yang Shu-an, executive vice president of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games - 2/5/2008
Hong Kong's leader (left) praised the city's tolerance and diversity

Clad in red and bearing determined expressions, the pro-China groups vastly outnumbered the handful of protesters who turned out to make other points.

But veteran democracy activist Martin Lee said the fact that so many different opinions were represented on Hong Kong's streets was a good sign.

"The one good thing you can see is that Hong Kong people, at least, are allowed to demonstrate for freedom and also for human rights," he said.

He pointed out that Chinese people on the mainland did not enjoy the same rights and freedoms as their compatriots in Hong Kong.

"They themselves would not be allowed to demonstrate for their own human rights," said Hong Kong's most well-known democracy activist.

"So you can see, in that sense, 'one country, two systems' at work."

We will always keep our traditions and support the motherland, wherever we live
Roger Sung

The 69-year-old, who took his place near the start of the relay, was referring to the political model that Beijing has guaranteed to maintain for 50 years.

Under this system, China is in ultimate control, but leaves in place the administrative structure developed before the British handed-over their former colony in 1997.

That guarantees Hong Kong citizens a broad range of rights and freedoms.

Mr Lee's point was echoed in a speech given by Donald Tsang, Hong Kong's chief executive, when he launched this leg of the torch relay.

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

Raucous welcome

Without a doubt, the most noticeable belief on show during the torch relay was nationalism.

Pro-China supporters, waving flags, chanting slogans and singing songs, turned Hong Kong's leg of the torch relay into a display of patriotism.

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

These well-organised activists, mostly made up of mainland students studying in Hong Kong, were determined to give the Olympic flame a raucous welcome - and they did.

This sense of national pride runs deep, even among Chinese people born and raised outside China.

A group of nearly 60 elderly overseas Chinese people, who had all studied on the mainland, gathered to greet the torch on Hong Kong island.

"We will always keep our traditions and support the motherland, wherever we live," said 67-year-old Roger Sung, who was born in Indonesia and now lives in Hong Kong.

These nationalists expressed their anger at protesters who were putting forward different points of view.

A solitary protester, holding aloft a banner calling for human rights in China, was jostled by two furious Chinese nationalists, who called him a traitor.

China supporters along HK torch route
China supporters vastly outnumbered anti-Beijing protesters

Democracy protesters had to be shielded from angry pro-China supporters after the relay had passed by in Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui district.

And a "free Tibet" activist was escorted around by several police officers, presumably in case she was attacked by those who disagreed with her view.

Hong Kong's police force had foreseen the possibility of trouble, and thousands of officers were deployed on the streets.

Their ranks included easily identifiable "negotiators", brought in to smooth over differences between the various groups.

They had a relatively easy job, as torch spectators mostly treated each other with the tolerance and respect Hong Kong's chief executive had earlier praised them for.

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