Bangkok, April 19 : Noisy demonstrations marked the beginning of the Bangkok leg of the troubled Olympic torch relay on Saturday.
Scores of protesters angry over China's human rights record and its represssive rule in Tibet, gathered outside the regional headquarters of the United Nations, chanted slogans and held banners that said: "No Torch in Tibet" and "One World, One Dream, Free Tibet".
Simultaneously, several hundred Chinese supporters, dressed in red, chanted and waved their country's national flags from behind police barricades.
A police helicopter hovered overhead as the torch and runners began their 10.5-km-long relay from the city's China Town, watched by Olympic marshals and tightly escorted by police patrols and motorcycles.
The parade got underway without incident with crowds cheering as the symbolic flame made the short journey towards the golden-spired Grand Palace.
The relay was flagged off by Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister, Sanan Kajornprasart, who said politics and sport are two separate entities, and should not be linked.
Police in Thailand capital Bangkok were out in full strength to ward off fresh anti-China protests, as the Olympic torch moved through its streets.
The chief of Thailand's Olympic Association, General Yuthasak Sasiprapa, was quoted by news agencies as saying that as long as the parade went off smoothly, there would be no strong-arm tactics by the law enforcement personnel.
Sasiprapa further said that the authorities would not tolerate violent, or illegal protests, and added that the torch and runners would be tightly secured by police patrols and motorcycles throughout the relay.
Several thousand police were drafted to protect the torch route. Alternative routes were also earmarked in case of an emergency.
The relay in Bangkok comes two days after a similar relay in New Delhi, India, where at least 15,000 to 18,000 security personnel were deployed to ensure that it went off smoothly and without incident. With over 100,000 exiled Tibetans living in Delhi, vociferous protests were anticipated. A parallel relay was organised by the Tibetans outside the security ring. There were incidents of disturbance which were quickly put down.
Story first published: Saturday, April 19, 2008, 16:31 [IST]
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