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Reports: Hong Kong authorities may shorten Olympic torch route
AP[Wednesday, April 09, 2008 15:10]

HONG KONG: Hong Kong authorities may shorten the city's leg of the Olympic torch relay because of chaotic protests at earlier stops in Paris and London, local newspapers said Tuesday.

The torch relay has been marred by unprecedented protests by activists criticizing China's human rights record, its crackdown in Tibet and support for Sudan despite years of bloodshed in Darfur.

In London, protesters nearly grabbed the torch, and in Paris, Chinese security officers extinguished its flame and hustled it to the safety of nearby buses, amid rowdy protests that prompted officials to call off the last third of the relay.

Chinese-ruled Hong Kong is a likely location for similarly aggressive protests because the former British colony enjoys Western-style civil liberties like freedom of protest. It also has liberal visa policies that grant visa-free access to citizens of major Western countries.

The torch's scheduled arrival in Hong Kong on April 30 is also symbolic because it marks the torch's return to Chinese soil after being transported across the world.

Gearing up for possible protests, Hong Kong authorities are considering shortening the torch's planned 33-kilometer (20-mile) relay here, newspapers Ming Pao Daily News and Apple Daily both reported.

Authorities also are considering scaling back an event to celebrate the torch run and rethinking plans to let Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang be the first torchbearer, Apple Daily reported.

Officials don't want to appear to have caved to possible protesters by shortening the route significantly, but may condense certain sections of the relay on May 2, Ming Pao reported.

They also are considering transporting the torch to its next stop, the neighboring gambling enclave Macau, by plane instead of by ferry to avoid protests at sea, Ming Pao said.

Macau is about an hour west of Hong Kong by high-speed ferry.

The reports did not identify their sources.

Chris Choy, a spokesman for Hong Kong's Leisure and Cultural Services Department, one of the organizers of the local torch relay, said officials are still testing and improving the relay route but declined further comment.

Under the currently announced plan, the torch will be transported across Hong Kong's Hong Kong island, Kowloon peninsula and the suburban New Territories by torch-bearing runners, car and boat.

Officials say 120 torch bearers will participate, but the list has not been announced.
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