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Olympic torch heads for mainland China

world Updated: May 03, 2008 11:53 IST

The Olympic torch will be carried through Macau on Saturday on its last stop outside China proper following a tortuous overseas leg that drew protests over Tibet and triggered retaliatory rallies by patriotic Chinese.

Security has been ratcheted up in China, where the ruling Communist Party tolerates no opposition, so the biggest threat to the torch relay as it begins its run through every Chinese province after Macau is likely to be from the weather.<b1>

Meteorologists were expecting showers in the coming days across swathes of the island province of Hainan, where the flame will go first, a Website of state news agency Xinhua said. Relay organisers prepared raincoats for the runners, it said.

A handful of demonstrations called for better protection of human rights, religious freedom and democracy in China along the route.

The former British colony took an uncharacteristically tough line against would-be torch protesters, barring several people from abroad from entering the city. Police at one point on Friday briefly detained a small group trying to raise a Tibetan flag near the torch route.

As has happened in several cities, pro-China crowds jostled and yelled at some of the protesters, trying to drown out their calls for greater protection of human rights.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Macau, for centuries a Portuguese-run enclave of China, returned to Beijing's control two years later. Both now have wide-ranging autonomy.

Macau is home to a booming casino industry, fuelled in large part by money from across the border in China.

The torch's return to China gave Chinese people a chance to witness a historic event, but it also turned a page, the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis newspaper said.

"In terms of international opinion, the focus will shift from the torch to Beijing, and that means the true test will now begin," it said in an editorial.

A sister Olympic torch is awaiting good weather to summit Mount Everest.