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Thai security keeps torch protests in check

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  • Relay officials say torch scattered protests fail to disrupt event
  • Tibetan exiles living in Thailand faced deportation if arrested for disrupting relay
  • One woman complains she was prevented from displaying Dalai Lama image
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BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- The Olympic torch relay appeared to go smoothly in the Thai capital Saturday amid heavy security and scattered protests along the route.

Organizers of the Bangkok leg of the relay said they did not have to divert the torch from its planned route, and they credited cooperation from demonstrators with keeping the event peaceful.

Groups of pro-Tibetan demonstrators holding banners and posters reading "Free Tibet" stayed behind police barricades along the route. Pro-Chinese demonstrators were also present, and toward the end of the route, they outnumbered the pro-Tibet demonstrators by about two to one.

CNN Correspondent Dan Rivers said the torch was allowed to pass unhindered in the middle of the street. He said spectators were able to get a clear view of the torch as it passed by.

One Western woman said police prevented her from holding up a photo of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Bangkok's 7-mile (10.5-kilometer) relay began at the Chinese gate, one of the landmarks at the entrance to the city's Chinatown. Bangkok is home to a large Chinese population dating to the 1700s, and many of them came out to support the torch along the route.

After going through Chinatown, the torch traveled through the bustling streets of Bangkok, past democracy monuments celebrating the end of absolute monarchy, which came in 1932.

It had been feared that those monuments could be flashpoints for trouble because they are symbols of political freedom.

The torch then moved on to the Grand Palace, the ceremonial heart of the city, and past the parliament before reaching the Sanam Luang parade grounds in front of the palace.

The relay ended in front of a monument to one of Thailand's former kings, Rama V.

Bangkok relay officials had mapped an alternate path that would have let the 80 torchbearers bypass demonstrators along the route if there was any trouble, but a member of the Thai organizing committee for the relay said the torch route was not diverted.

Akapol Sorasuchart, who is also an aide to Thailand's deputy prime minister, said that about 150 people staged a "little protest" outside the U.N. headquarters in Bangkok, but apart from that, he said, everything had gone smoothly.

"We have planned everything down to details. We have talked to protesters themselves, and everyone has been very cooperative," Sorasuchart said. "We are grateful to them all and other people that traveled from abroad that may have a different view of the government of China. We appreciate their cooperation in organizing the whole event today."

Thai authorities had warned that they might deport foreign activists coming to Bangkok to disrupt the torch relay, said Lt. Gen. Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit, the national police spokesman.

Extraordinary security at the flame's previous stop in New Delhi, India, kept thousands of anti-Chinese protesters mostly at bay during a shortened relay Thursday.

The Indian capital was transformed into a fortress. Police sealed off roads and shuttered buildings along the route, and Indian authorities kept the relay route secret until 24 hours before the event.

Tsewang Rigzin, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, said that at least 200 members of the pro-independence group and their supporters were arrested in various places in the capital. Opposition parties decried the unprecedented security measures, saying they had turned New Delhi into a "police camp."

Security concerns and sympathy for Tibetan protesters already prompted changes in Japan, where the flame is scheduled to go next week.

A Buddhist temple in Nagano, Japan, withdrew as the scheduled starting site for relay, a temple official said Friday. And the three relay sponsors -- Coca-Cola, Samsung and Lenovo -- said Friday that their logos will not appear on vehicles that will escort the torch, company officials said.

Nagano was the site of the 1998 Olympic Winter Games.

Japan's Kyodo news agency quoted an official with the Zenkoji Temple as saying, "indiscriminate killings were undertaken in Tibet. We were concerned about Buddhists in Tibet who rose up and a subsequent crackdown against them."

Supporters of Tibet denounce the Chinese government's stance toward Tibet, and many believe that China should not have been awarded the honor of hosting the Olympic Games, which begin August 8 in Beijing.


Stops in London, England; Paris, France; and San Francisco, California, attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators, attacks on the torch and relay participants, and dozens of arrests.

Subsequent stops in Argentina, Tanzania and Oman were trouble-free. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Dan Rivers contributed to this report

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