Olympic torch enjoying smooth relay

HAIKOU, China &

Paramilitary police donned Hawaiian shirts and pink buses shuttled in more cops in camouflage. Security was heavy but officers were markedly relaxed as jubilant crowds, apparently free of protesters, helped kick off the Olympic torch's tour of China.

"Of course I'm happy, but I can't talk to you," one officer said with a smile as the torch was carried through the tropical port city of Haikou on Tuesday. Up to a million people squeezed along the route. "Go China!" they screamed as the flame bobbed by.

Today was apparently another trouble-free day before cheering crowds as the torch made a 10-hour tour through the southern city of Guangzhou, also known as Canton, in China's prosperous manufacturing center.

So far, the Olympic torch seems to be having a smooth relay in China, uninterrupted by the protests over Tibet and human rights that followed parts of its international tour.

Relieved corporate sponsors like Samsung and Coca-Cola, whose logos were seldom seen along the torch relay outside China, now are splashing their names everywhere.

How China handles the torch, and the crowds, is a hint of how it will manage the Beijing Olympics. While most of the more than 100 stops across China should go smoothly, legs through Tibet and the largely Muslim province of Xinjiang &

areas with recent protests against Chinese rule or policies &

could test security and crowd control.

If a protest were to happen during the flame's three-month journey to Beijing in August, it might be impossible to tell. Foreign media are not allowed in the convoy that follows the torch, which is restricted to state media. When the torch went out at the start of its Sunday run in the seaside city of Sanya, the live national broadcast cut away as guards rekindled the flame.

Police and paramilitary forces by the dozens jogged on either side of the torch. Others were posted every few feet along the route. The rest waited in reserve, along with a bomb disposal truck and armored vans lined with tiny windows and gun portals.

The few thousand people invited to the opening and closing ceremonies for each day's run have had to pass through security checkpoints with metal detectors.

Even torch bearers were told to leave watches, cell phones, cameras and other items behind before their leg of the relay, said torch bearer Derrick Cope. The American businessman in Shanghai was among 10 people chosen in a Chinese television reality show called "You are the Torch Bearer."

Crowds in Haikou were friendly to foreigners, showing little of the angry, anti-Western sentiments of recent weeks after protests in London, Paris and San Francisco that some Chinese saw as an attack against China and the Olympics.

"Welcome to China!" university students called out, some sporting face paint and tooting plastic horns as the convoy streamed by.

Others following the torch were celebrating that many in China have left the hard life behind after 30 years of free-market economic reforms.

In a dusty field outside the closing ceremony in Haikou, 64-year-old retiree Ren Anqing stood out from the young crowd in his old-style undershirt, shorts and sandals. "When I was young, I raised cows," he said, smiling. "These kids? They have everything."

Ren has a computer now so he can e-mail his son, who's about to earn a doctorate after studies that included a year in Singapore &

all unimaginable when his father was growing up.

"If I was young again in China? Wah!" Ren said, his smile getting wider. "That would be a great thing."

Share This Story