Stanley Ho

Torch relay a cakewalk in Macau

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 May, 2008, 12:00am


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There was no doubt that the Olympic torch was firmly in China yesterday.

While there were minor protests during the Hong Kong leg of the relay on Friday, it was all smooth sailing in Macau.

Mainlanders appeared to outnumber locals at many spots along the 19km relay route, with tourists holding souvenir almond cakes with one hand and waving red flags with the other.

Relay organisers said a quarter of a million people gathered to watch the event - the last leg before the Olympic flame enters the mainland - in a city of just half a million.

The relay started at 3.30pm from Fisherman's Wharf and the torch was carried by 120 torch-bearers past Unesco-listed heritage buildings, modern facades and new casino resorts before returning to the wharf.

Gamblers took a rare breather from the baccarat tables to come out and shout 'bravo China' as torch-bearers ran past the casinos.

Members of dozens of Macau groups - neighbourhood associations, trade unions, student societies, and private companies - took to the streets to celebrate.

Tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun's SJM casino firm alone mobilised 3,000 employees to line the streets.

After all, Mr Ho was the second torch-bearer, walking and shuffling more than 100 metres and becoming one of the oldest torch-bearers in Olympic history.

The 87-year-old tycoon said it was a piece of cake and he could have covered '10 times the distance'.

Retired Macau teacher Manuel Sou, 73, said it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance that no one should miss.

'I am proud and excited to witness this historic moment, even though I am not a torch-bearer,' Mr Sou said. 'It shows China's status is rising in the world.'

Many mainlanders came to Macau just for the relay, ready to counter pro-Tibet protesters should any appear.

Zhuhai resident Winnie Xu Dang, 36, said she would put aside personal safety to stop any protester disrupting the relay. 'If any separatist shows up, I will certainly rush forward to take him on,' Ms Xu said.

She said her family rarely visited Macau, but she had come with her husband and 10-year-old son just to watch the relay.

Zhongshan student Jamie He Yuqing, 21, said she planned to drown out any noise from protesters with her cheers - if they appeared.

'People have the right to express themselves,' Ms He said. 'I wouldn't use any violence, but would out-scream them.'

The relay route was unexpectedly cut short to bypass the Senado Square area; organisers later explained that it was overcrowded with spectators.

Macau police pulled out all the stops to guard the torch relay. As many as 2,200 officers were mobilised and no one from the Public Security force was allowed to take leave.

Wushu athlete Leong Hong-man was the first torch-bearer, while legislator Leong Heng-teng was the last.