- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2008

From combined dispatches

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea mobilized tens of thousands of citizens yesterday to celebrate the Olympic torch relay in Pyongyang, the flame’s first visit to the authoritarian nation.

The torch then went to Vietnam, arriving last night under tight security because of planned demonstrations.

In Pyongyang, men in their best suits and women wearing traditional high-waisted dresses waved flags and paper flowers in the capital, greeting the torch like a visiting head of state.

China is North Korea’s main ally and a key provider of aid, and the torch relay was used to herald their ties. North Korea has condemned disruptions of the torch relay elsewhere, and supported Beijing in its crackdown on violent protests in Tibet.

Leader Kim Jong-il was not seen at yesterday’s event, but he was “paying great interest to the success of the Olympic torch relay,” Pak Hak Son, chairman of North Korea’s Olympic committee, said at the relay start, according to a report from Pyongyang by Japan’s Kyodo News agency.

“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,” Mr. Pak said.

The torch began its run from beneath the giant red stained-glass flame that tops the 558-foot-tall obelisk of the Juche Tower, which commemorates the national ideology of “self-reliance” created by the late founding President Kim Il-sung, father of Kim Jong-il.

An attentive and peaceful crowd watched the start of the relay, some waving Chinese and Olympic flags, television footage showed. The ceremony was presided over by the head of Parliament, Kim Yong Nam.

As the 12-mile relay wound through Pyongyang, thousands of cheering people lined the streets.

It was reported from Ho Chi Minh City that the torch arrived last night under tight security as activists said they planned demonstrations over Hanoi and Beijing’s competing claims for South China Sea islands.

Scores of Chinese and Vietnamese with national flags and Beijing 2008 Olympics flags greeted the torch at Ho Chi Minh City airport.

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