Olympic flame arrives in HK, but it's hard to catch a glimpse

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 May, 2008, 12:00am

The Olympic flame arrived in Hong Kong yesterday - the first time in 44 years - to begin a tour of Chinese cities before arriving in Beijing in August.

Senior Hong Kong officials welcomed the flame at the airport and at another ceremony at the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui as it returned to Chinese soil after a bruising, protest-marred journey overseas.

Hundreds of supporters gathered in Tsim Sha Tsui to see the flame after its arrival from Hanoi, but blanket security prevented even a glimpse.

At the Tsim Sha Tsui ceremony, where a four-metre replica Olympic torch was unveiled, Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said the flame was the 'brightest symbol of hopes and dreams ... It represents universal values that transcend nationality, race, or religion'. He said Hong Kong had the responsibility to ensure the 'dignified, smooth and orderly progress of the Olympic flame'.

A total of 120 torch-bearers will carry the flame - which last came to Hong Kong in 1964 - across the city tomorrow before it visits Macau and mainland cities.

The executive vice-president of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Bocog), Yang Shuan , emerged from an aircraft at Chek Lap Kok with the flame at about 2pm to be greeted by Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing, a marching band and schoolchildren waving Hong Kong and national flags. The flame travelled by coach to Tsim Sha Tsui, where Mr Tang, Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, president of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, tomorrow's torch-bearers and other public figures welcomed it. Mr Fok said 'the people of Hong Kong are proud and privileged to be proud of the history now being made', and that 'our passion and our participation will be forever etched in our collective consciousness'.

Mr Tang further urged people to dress in red, adding that the relay 'will showcase Hong Kong's special character, our beautiful scenery and the vibrancy of our city'.

However, Henry Lok Tak-chi, 65, said he set off from his Aberdeen home at 1pm to see the flame in Tsim Sha Tsui but he and hundreds of other people were disappointed after waiting for more than an hour.

'I understand that some security measures are necessary', he said, 'but I don't think it is necessary for the government to keep us hundreds of metres away from the celebration venue. We cannot see anything from here. Is this what they called 'public participation'?'

A Leisure and Cultural Services Department spokeswoman confirmed that only government officials, lawmakers and some torch-bearers were invited to the welcoming ceremony.

'The performing place in front of the Cultural Centre is a rather small place that cannot accommodate many people,' she said. 'Since the show is broadcast live through local television stations, we'd like to recommend citizens to watch the performance on TV.'