Torch resumes harried journey in Vietnam

The Olympic torch resumed its harried journey in communist Vietnam on Tuesday after China jailed 17 for last months riots in Tibet, the first sentencings in connection with the unrest.

The global relay has endured the most tortuous journey of its history, beset by trouble since protesters breached security at the torch-lighting ceremony at Ancient Olympia in Greece last month. Protesters have jostled the torchbearers in several places and denounced Beijing’s human rights record, especially in Tibet.

But few expected disruptions in the former Saigon, despite a call for demonstrations by overseas Vietnamese groups opposed to Communist Party rule.

In the city of eight million, groups of Chinese youths, dressed in white Beijing 2008 Olympics T-shirts and carrying national flags, were lining the streets for the last international leg of the torch relay before it heads to China.

Uniformed and plainclothes police discouraged scores of Chinese from unfurling banners near the cathedral in the city centre, where streets were clogged with motorbikes and cars.

Red flags, banners and signs welcoming the torch hung from lampposts along several avenues of the city, which is also preparing to mark the 33rd anniversary on Wednesday of the communist takeover of United States-backed South Vietnam, and May Day.

The Tibetan protests and the sympathy they have engendered abroad has stoked the fires of patriotism in China that tend to flare when sensitivities about the country’s standing collide with international events.

The around-the-world torch relay has been dogged by anti-China protests that then prompted rallies by overseas Chinese, who are proud that their country is hosting the Olympics and of Beijing’s efforts to modernise Tibet.

Open trial in Lhasa

A court in Tibet’s regional capital, Lhasa, announced the verdicts of the 17 people at an ”open trial” attended by more than 200 people, state television said.

It was the first batch of sentences announced since the March 14 violence in Tibet and a Chinese crackdown that led to protests and disruption of the Olympic torch relay, most notably in London, Paris and San Francisco.

China has blamed Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his government-in-exile for plotting the riots, in which at least 18 ”innocent civilians”, according to Beijing, were killed by Tibetan mobs in Lhasa last month.

South Korea is investigating violence at the relay in Seoul over the weekend.

Newspapers there ran angry editorials denouncing Chinese students who hurled rocks at groups criticising Beijing, charging into lines of police, beating pro-Tibet protesters and kicking an elderly man.

On Monday, North Korea mustered thens of thousands of people waving flags, plastic flowers and dancing in the streets for the first incident-free leg of the global torch relay.

Vietnam is the last international leg of the relay before it goes to Hong Kong on Wednesday, where 3 000 policemen will guard the torch during its eight-hour relay in the city.

In recent weeks, analysts say Hong Kong authorities have been under pressure from Beijing to tighten its immigration and security apparatus to smother any possible flare-up of trouble during the torch’s first touchdown on Chinese soil following its protest-marred global six-week tour.

Over the weekend, authorities barred three Danish activists, including sculptor Jens Galschiot, from entering the city for ”immigration reasons”. They had planned to protest against Chinese human rights violations during the city’s torch relay.

A senior official admitted the incident may have hurt Hong Kong’s free and open image, but said the city should be judged by its positive overall track record of allowing protests. – Reuters 2008

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Grant Mccool
⚽️Football: RBNY, Liverpool. gegenpressing; STH Red Bull Arena. Maplewood, NJ. Long-time Reuters journalist (not soccer). Opinions my own.⚽️ Grant Mccool has over 396 followers on Twitter.

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