Protests follow Olympic torch in Seoul
April 29, 2008
SEOUL — Thousands of Chinese demonstrators gathered Sunday to watch the Olympic torch as it passed through Seoul, with some protests turning violent.
At City Hall, pockets of mostly student protesters scuffled with Korean riot police after the torch finally made its way from the park where the Olympics were held 20 years earlier. Onlookers shouted “China, China, China” and sang Chinese national songs.
About an hour earlier, a photographer took pictures of a pro-Tibet demonstrator being chased into the Seoul Plaza Hotel by several hundred Chinese.
This year’s torch relay has been marred worldwide by sometimes violent protests of those upset by China’s human rights record and its policy toward Tibet. U.S. Forces Korea issued an advisory warning USFK personnel to stay away from the relay.
Few anti-China demonstrators were present as the torch made its way through Seoul. But thousands of Chinese demonstrators — mostly university students studying in South Korea — waved Chinese flags, tied them around their necks, wore flag T-shirts and stickers, and held signs in English that said “The Olympics must go on” and “Tibet as a part of China since 1362.”
A few minutes after the torch left Olympic Park, hundreds of pro-Chinese demonstrators charged toward a flatbed truck holding about 30 people protesting China’s actions in Tibet and its repatriation of North Korean refugees. They were held back by South Korean riot police, but bottles began flying through the air and some onlookers fell down during the melee. There were no reports of serious injuries resulting from the incident as of Sunday evening.
At least one man tried to block the torch’s route but was subdued by police, according to the Yonhap South Korean news agency.
Across the city, the grassy plaza in front of City Hall looked and felt like a Chinese pep rally in the hours before the torch arrived, as demonstrators smiled, chanted and took pictures of each other.
They said the Olympics were about sports, not politics.
“We just want peaceful Olympic Games, because the Olympics do not belong to Chinese but to everyone in the world,” said Haidong Xue, one of about 100 student demonstrators from Sogang University. “It’s international sports. It’s a festival for everyone.”
When asked about recent violence in Tibet, the 24-year-old said he had no comment.
“We’re just here to enjoy our Olympics,” he said.
Qing Leng, a 26-year-old in South Korea on vacation, said she wanted to support the Olympics and her country. She said Tibet has prospered since China took over the country.
“They’re very good people. They love China,” she said.
Ye Jingzhi, a 22-year-old studying at Jeju Island, said photos of recent violence in Tibet were taken 10 or 20 years ago, or showed police in other countries. She said she was angry that people blame China for the violence, but declined to talk about Tibet.
“It’s unfair,” she said of the attention on Tibet. “We’ve prepared a long time for the Olympics.”
Tibetan independence supporters dispute China’s claim that Tibet is historically part of China and what they see as China’s attempt to dilute Tibet’s autonomy.