Millions of red badges and flags to welcome torch in Hong Kong

Other News Materials 28 April 2008 08:22 (UTC +04:00)

Millions of red stickers are being distributed and Chinese flags handed out in an effort to give the Olympic torch a patriotic welcome in Hong Kong on May 2, the dpa reported.

Schools, kindergartens and businesses are also being urged to get students and employees to wear red on the day the torch returns to Chinese soil for the first time since its troubled world tour.

All 27,000 staff at Sun Hung Kai, one of the city's biggest property companies, have been asked to wear stickers or dress in red and 5,000 Standard Chartered Bank staff may do the same.

The patriotic drive, organized by a pro-government committee of politicians and business people, follows the expulsion from Hong Kong of foreigners arriving to take part in anti-China protests.

Police have also been accused of harassing individuals planning peaceful protests over Tibet and human rights issues as the Olympic flame passes through Hong Kong.

Security officials in the former British colony, which maintains freedoms denied to people in the rest of China, have also suggested that displaying the Tibetan flag may be seen as an offence.

Hong Kong's Education Bureau is to write to all kindergartens and primary schools asking them to make May 2 a "special activities" day to celebrate the arrival of the Olympic torch.

Critics of the patriotic drive, however, say that the "dress-red" campaign by the pro-government Committee for Welcoming the Torch could politicize the relay and put pressure on employees.

"Employees will be bound to come under pressure to conform and can easily be labelled by their employers if they refuse," union leader Cheung Lai-ha told Monday's South China Morning Post.

Cheung said some employees had already complained to her union at being asked to wave Chinese and Hong Kong flags on the streets on the day of the relay.

A number of protest groups plan to highlight the unrest in Tibet during the Hong Kong torch relay although surveys suggest a large majority of Hong Kongers oppose anti-China protests.

The city's Beijing-appointed Chief Executive Donald Tsang is expected to be the first of 120 torch-bearers to run in the 33-kilometre relay, which will be marshalled by 3,000 police.

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty 11 years ago under a "one country, two systems" arrangement guaranteeing political freedoms and the right to protest.