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North Korea gives Olympic torch a rare welcome

North Korea gives Olympic torch a rare welcome

Haroon Siddique
London Guardian
April 28, 2008


The Olympic torch has made a peaceful procession through North Korea, where the regime is an ally of China. In a reversal of protests that have dogged the flame’s world tour, thousands of cheering people lined the 12-mile route through the capital, Pyongyang, waving pink paper flowers and small flags with the Beijing Olympics logo and chanting: “Welcome, welcome.”

The scenes were in stark contrast to those seen yesterday in the South Korean capital, Seoul, where clashes broke out between 500 Chinese students and about 50 demonstrators criticising Beijing’s policies.

The students threw stones and water bottles as some 2,500 police tried to keep the two sides apart. A North Korean defector covered himself with petrol and tried to set himself on fire, but police restrained and carried him away.

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, was not seen at today’s event in Pyongyang. Pak Hak Son, chairman of the north’s Olympic committee, told Japan’s Kyodo news agency that despite his absence Jong was “paying great interest to the success of the Olympic torch relay”.

Protests against human rights abuses and state repression were notably absent on the route through North Korea, which has criticised the disruption to the flame’s progress elsewhere and supported Beijing in its crackdown against protests in Tibet.

“We express our basic position that while some impure forces have opposed China’s hosting of the event and have been disruptive. We believe that constitutes a challenge to the Olympic idea,” Pak said.

The UN children’s agency Unicef had been asked to participate in the North Korean leg of the relay but withdrew in March, saying it was not sure the event would help its mission of raising awareness of conditions for children.

 


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