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Torch relay starts amid tight security in Bangkok

Thai torchbearers set off for the Bangkok leg of the torch relay, with the flame guarded by more than 2,000 police and security officials.
AFP | By HT Correspondent, Bangkok
UPDATED ON APR 19, 2008 07:57 PM IST

Thai torchbearers set off on Saturday for the Bangkok leg of the protest-hit Beijing Olympic torch relay, witnesses said, with the flame guarded by more than 2,000 police and security officials.

After a short ceremony presided over by Thailand's deputy prime minister Sanan Kachornprasart, the first of 80 runners set off from an ornate Chinese gate in Bangkok's Chinatown for the 10-kilometre relay.

"We reaffirm our position that we clearly separate politics and sport. Thailand is ready to organise the torch relay peacefully and orderly," Sanan said.

Hundreds of onlookers gathered for the launch of the relay, an AFP reporter on the scene said, with groups of Chinese tourists singing national songs and waving flags while acrobats and Chinese dragons put on a colourful display.

About 60 pro-Tibet protesters gathered at the United Nations headquarters three kilometres from the torch's starting point, waving banners reading: "Free Tibet," "Stop Killing in Tibet" and "No Torch in Tibet."

They were matched by about 60 pro-Chinese protesters in red T-shirts, waving the Olympic flag and shouting "China, come on!" and "Olympics, come on!" as the Tibet protesters screamed "Free Tibet." Police separated the two groups.

Police have warned that they will arrest, prosecute and deport any foreign nationals breaking the law to protest Beijing's human rights record.

Authorities are trying to keep the relay free of the protests that dogged the London and Paris legs earlier this month.

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