Security eased as torch crowds soak up carnival atmosphere

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 May, 2008, 12:00am

Police appeared to relax their grip on security for yesterday's Olympic torch relay in Huizhou , Guangdong, with spectators running along the route to cheer on the torch-bearers in a carnival-like atmosphere.

It was a big contrast to the strong police presence and the chaotic and, at times, tense atmosphere in Shenzhen on Thursday. In Shenzhen, torch escorts had to extinguish the flame at one point, and witnesses reported seeing people trying to grab the torch and being wrestled to the ground.

There were no such incidents in Huizhou, about 60km northeast of Shenzhen. Spectators ran down both sides of the procession, in some cases coming within 10 metres of the torch-bearers.

The low-key police approach in Huizhou was also reflected in the lack of cordoned-off areas. The result was a smooth and incident-free relay. Spectators lined the streets, decked out in Olympic and Huizhou-themed hats and T-shirts and, instead of commercial advertising, large banners posted along the route bore slogans reading 'Welcome to Huizhou' and 'Come on, China; Come on, Olympics'.

A day earlier, Shenzhen police took no chances, stationing officers about every 10 metres in key areas. But that effort failed to stop large crowds from throwing some sections of the relay into chaos. At one point, the Olympic flame even had to be extinguished 'to ensure public safety'.

A witness said that at one point five young men tried to snatch the torch on Shennan Road and were taken away by police. But media sources said the temporary snuffing-out of the torch had been caused by technical problems rather any bid to disrupt the event.

More than 10,000 flags were on buildings lining the Huizhou route. Onlookers said there was a 'red sea' of people waving on the torch-bearers.

Huizhou's relay also differed from the previous star-studded runs by featuring people from a broad cross-section of the community, from farmers, to students, workers and the disabled.

The run, of nearly 31km, got under way at Huizhou Stadium with Chen Xiujun, a former national backstroke swimming champion, the first of 208 torch-bearers. Lu Qin, a chess coach for the Guangdong provincial team, ran the last leg.

The relay's final stop in Guangdong will be today in Shantou .