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Activists denied entry as Olympic torch reaches Hong Kong

April 30, 2008 11:02 IST

The Olympic torch arrives in Hong Kong on Wednesday with authorities under fire for barring at least half a dozen activists from entering the city.

Three Tibetan activists from the groups Free Tibet and Students for a Free Tibet were denied entry by Hong Kong authorities on Tuesday, while three Danish human rights activists including sculptor Jens Galschiot were barred over the weekend.

The Hong Kong relay leg will be the flame's first stop on Chinese soil following its protest-marred global tour.

Some political analysts said Hong Kong's high level of sensitivity over the torch relay stemmed from Beijing, and was testing the limits of freedoms granted to the city when it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

"I believe this is not a decision by the Hong Kong immigration authorities, but a request from Beijing asking them to eliminate all possible outside risks of protest," said James Sung, a political analyst with City University.

Carrie Yau, a senior government official, said on Tuesday the deportations may have caused a "perception problem" with Hong Kong's free and open image, but said the city should be judged by its positive overall track record of allowing protests.

Three thousand Hong Kong police will guard the torch during its eight-hour relay in the city on Friday, with police officials warning they will not tolerate any violence and that the flying of Tibetan flags during the torch relay might be an offence.

Several local groups have said they will protest on Friday, but they'll be restricted to designated protest locations.

U.S. actress Mia Farrow, who has pressured China over its policy on Sudan, also plans to speak in Hong Kong on Friday.

The Hong Kong government and business groups have, however, been at pains to emphasise Chinese Olympic pride, organising events involving tens of thousands of singing supporters, with patriotic flags and more than 1 million stickers printed for territory-wide distribution.

A recent local survey found that nine out 10 Hong Kong people were opposed to protests against the Olympic flame.

More than 120 torch bearers will carry the flame, led by Hong Kong's sole Olympics gold medallist, windsurfer Lee Lai-shan.

Hong Kong has a direct role in the Olympics this summer, hosting equestrian events after Beijing failed to set up a disease-free zone for horses.

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