- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 3, 2008

HONG KONG (AP) — Runners carried the Olympic flame through Hong Kong without disruption yesterday, as large groups of flag-waving torch supporters shouted insults at pro-Tibet and human rights protesters, forcing them to seek refuge in police vans.

Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama’s envoys headed for China to hold the first talks with Chinese officials since violent protests erupted in Tibet in March.

China has faced mounting calls to negotiate with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, and many believe it agreed to the talks in a bid to ease the pressure ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

Reaction to the crackdown sparked unruly protests during the torch relay, but no one tried to block the flame yesterday, as a chain of smiling athletes, movie stars and tycoons jogged around Hong Kong amid heavy security.

One angry pro-China mob yelled, “Do you think this is Paris?” to a small group of pro-democracy supporters as they peacefully demonstrated near the start of the torch route. It was a reference to the French leg of the relay that was disrupted by protests.

Police had to put another protester holding a Tibetan flag into a police van after she was threatened by 30 torch supporters who pushed and shoved a dozen officers who were protecting her.

Near Hong Kong’s government headquarters, actress Mia Farrow held aloft a separate torch and urged Beijing to help stop the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region. But she didn’t disrupt the relay.

Spectators heeded the government’s call to wear red to support the event.

“Every member of our community who defied the rain and took part and played an indispensable role in creating this ocean of red that has washed over Hong Kong today,” said Henry Tang, Hong Kong’s No. 2 leader.

The majority of torch spectators supported the flame and did not cause trouble.

One group of seven pro-democracy activists was overwhelmed by torch supporters, who drowned out the activists’ slogans with insults like “running dog,” “traitor” and “get out!”

The activists, holding a banner that read, “Return power to the people,” were surrounded by 80 police and eventually ducked into a police vehicle for protection.

Many torch supporters were apparently from mainland China because they chanted slogans and hurled insults in Mandarin, not the local Cantonese dialect.

University student Christina Chan wrapped the Tibetan snow lion flag around her body and later began waving it. Several onlookers heckled Ms. Chan, and as the crowd became more hostile, police put her in a police van against her will.

“What right do they have to take me away? I have a right to express my opinion,” said the 21-year-old university student.

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