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North Korea hosts Olympic torch

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  • NEW: Relay takes place in Pyongyang, North Korea
  • Clashes break out in Seoul during the torch relay on Sunday
  • A man tries to set himself on fire but is stopped by police
  • Hong Kong bars human rights activists from entering city
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(CNN) -- North Korea on Monday played host for the first time ever to the Olympic torch, as large crowds in Pyongyang waved red and white flags and cheered the runners.

Presiding over the event was the head of North Korea's rubber-stamp parliament and ceremonial state leader, Kim Yong Nam, according to The Associated Press.

He passed the torch to the first runner, Pak Du Ik, who played on North Korea's 1966 World Cup soccer team that made a historic run to the quarterfinals, AP reported.

The 20-kilometer (12-mile) relay began from beneath the larger sculpted flame atop the Juche Tower obelisk, AP reported, adding that the nation's leader, Kim Jong Il, was not seen at the event. Video Watch the event in Pyongyang »

The event was a contrast to the torch's stop in Seoul, South Korea, a day earlier, where clashes broke out between protesters and Chinese students. There, a group of 500 Chinese supporters and 50 demonstrators critical of Beijing's policies scuffled, as some 2,500 police tried to keep them apart, AP reported.

Four people were arrested for trying to disrupt the relay, AP cited police as saying.

At least 8,000 riot police were deployed to guard the 15-mile (24 kilometer) route, which started at Olympic Park, which was built when Seoul hosted the Summer Games in 1988.

One man doused himself with gasoline and tried to set himself on fire before police stopped him. Son Jong Hoon, 45, led an unsuccessful public campaign to save his brother from execution in North Korea after being accused of spying after the brothers met secretly in China, AP reported.

About 30,000 Chinese students study in South Korea.

In other recent Asian legs of the relay, a large number of Chinese students have attended. In Bangkok, Thailand, students told CNN the Chinese Embassy there provided their transportation and gave them shirts to wear.

As in several past stops, demonstrators protesting China's policy toward Tibet turned out at the rally. Video Watch footage of the Seoul torch relay. »

They were joined by other demonstrators critical of how China forcefully deports North Korean refugees back to their impoverished country when they escape into China.

Under the North Korean penal code, leaving the country without state permission can be considered an act of treason, punishable by heavy penalties including imprisonment and forced labor, said Kay Seok of Seoul's Human Rights Watch.

"They will be invariably interrogated about what they did in China, why they went to China and who they met there," she said. "And depending on the result of the interrogation, they will be sent to labor camps for a few months or to prison for a few years."

The torch has been shadowed on its journeys by pro-Tibet demonstrators who troubled the relay in London, England; Paris, France; and San Francisco, California. Stops in those cities attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators and prompted dozens of arrests.

But stops in some countries, such as Argentina, Tanzania and Oman, have been trouble-free.

On Wednesday, the torch travels to Hong Kong. Three human rights activists who planned on protesting the torch relay there said Sunday that they there were barred from entering the Chinese-ruled territory.

"We (were) finally told that we for 'immigration reasons' could not enter Hong Kong, and should take the next plane back," wrote Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot on the Web site of his group, Color Orange.

"Although repeatedly asking for the reason of being denied access, they would/could not explain it in more details than 'we do not live up to the requirements of immigration.'"


Galschiot sculpted 'The Pillar of Shame,' which depicts 50 torn and twisted bodies to symbolize those who died in a Chinese crackdown on Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The torch relay ends its round-the-world jaunt of 21 cities in five continents in Beijing in August. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Sohn Jie-Ae contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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