- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2008

SEOUL (AP) — Chinese students clashed with anti-Beijing demonstrators at the Olympic torch relay today in Seoul, throwing rocks and punches at the latest stop on the flame’s troubled round-the-world journey.

A North Korean defector tried to set himself on fire to halt the relay, where thousands of police guarded the flame from protesters blasting China’s treatment of North Korean refugees.

But the small groups of anti-China demonstrators were far outnumbered by seas of red-clad Chinese supporters who waved red national flags as they took to the streets of the South Korean capital to defend the torch. China’s crackdown on violent protests against Chinese rule in Tibet has triggered attempts to disrupt the torch run celebrating the August games at other stops of the torch relay.

In South Korea, many critics focused on Beijing’s treatment of defectors who try to escape their lives of hardship in North Korea.

The man who tried to immolate himself, 45-year-old Son Jong Hoon, had led an unsuccessful public campaign to save his brother from execution in the North, where he was accused of spying after the two met secretly in China. About an hour into the relay, Son poured gasoline on himself and tried to light himself on fire, but police stopped him.

At the start of the relay, a protester rushed toward the Olympic flame and tried to unfurl a banner calling for China to respect the rights of North Korean refugees. Dozens of police surrounding the torch quickly whisked him away. As it approached the city center, another North Korean defector also tried to impede the run and was arrested.

One Chinese student swatted at the demonstrators with a flagpole. Another student was arrested for allegedly throwing rocks, said an official at a police station near Olympic Park. The official asked not to be named because the investigation was under way.

There were no further attempts to stop the torch on its 4 ½-hour trip through Seoul to City Hall, where it was met by some 5,000 supporters.

Some 8,000 police were deployed across the South Korean capital to guard the torch on its 15-mile run from Olympic Park.

The first runner, the South’s Korean Olympic Committee head Kim Jung-kil, jogged out of the park surrounded by police on horseback, on bicycles, in buses and on foot.

Thousands of Chinese also paced the torch. They carried a large red Chinese flag, chanting “Go China, go Olympics!”

Scuffles broke out near the park between a group of 500 Chinese supporters and about 50 demonstrators. The Chinese side threw stones and water bottles at the others as some 2,500 police tried to keep the two groups apart.

A rock hit a journalist in the head, but there were apparently no other injuries.

“The Olympics are not a political issue,” said Sun Cheng, 22, a Chinese student studying the Korean language in Seoul. “I can’t understand why the Korean activist groups are protesting human rights or other diplomatic issues.”

Seoul is one of the last stops on the torch’s international tour, which ends when the flame arrives in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Today, three human rights activists who planned to protest the relay in Hong Kong were barred from entering the Chinese-ruled territory, local media and the one of the activists said.

The torch heads next to North Korea for its first-ever run in the communist country tomorrow. Disruptions were not expected in the North, an authoritarian state that tolerates no dissent.

Associated Press Writer Jae-hyun Jeong contributed to this report.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide