Crowds gather for Olympic torch relay in Hong Kong

Soaked by a morning drizzle, people began gathering hours before the Olympic torch relay began Friday in Hong Kong, with some waving red Chinese flags and others holding signs demanding democracy in China, according to AP.

The eight-hour relay through canyons of skyscrapers was expected to be a big challenge for Hong Kong's leaders and police. The torch is finally back on Chinese soil, and Beijing wants no repeat of the protests and chaos that dogged the flame during its 20-nation overseas tour.

Everyone was encouraged to wear red to show their support for the torch, and about 3,000 police were deployed to defend the flame.

But if there was to be any more trouble it was likely to happen in Hong Kong, a place with civil liberties unrivaled in the rest of China.

Two hours before the relay began, people started lining up along the streets near the start of the event in the bustling tourist shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon.

As a light rain fell, some spectators had big Chinese flags, while others carried protest signs. One woman had an orange sign that said, "Olympic flame for democracy," while a man carried a poster with a tank and the slogan "One world, two dreams."

University student Christina Chan wrapped the Tibetan snow lion flag around her body and later began waving it. China's recent crackdown on Tibet has inspired many of the protests against the torch overseas.

Several onlookers heckled Chan, shouting "What kind of Chinese are you?" and "What a shame!"

The 21-year-old Chan said, "Why can't we just respect each other and express our views."

Hong Kong was a British colony until the city was handed back to China in 1997. Although Beijing makes all the big political decisions, Hong Kong was promised a wide degree of autonomy under a formula called "one country, two systems."

Media in Hong Kong are allowed to criticize the territory's leaders. There have been massive street protests demanding greater democracy. English is still the official language in the courts, where judges wear British-style wigs.

But for special events like the Olympic torch relay, Hong Kong leans more toward the "one country" part of the formula than the "two systems."

In the past week, authorities used a blacklist to stop seven pro-Tibet and human rights activists at the airport. They were questioned and deported.

It is a tactic the authorities have used before for other events, especially those involving high-ranking Chinese leaders. They decline to explain the deportations, saying it's a private matter.

But actress Mia Farrow was allowed into Hong Kong Thursday to give a speech critical of China's cozy ties with Sudan. However, Farrow said that immigration officials asked her for assurances that she wouldn't disrupt the torch relay. She said she wouldn't.

It was all part of Hong Kong's delicate balancing act - pleasing political masters in Beijing while trying to be a free society and a freewheeling global financial capital.

Some have criticized Hong Kong's list of 120 relay runners for not having enough athletes and being overloaded with political and business figures.

The first runner will be Hong Kong's sole Olympic gold medalist, Lee Lai-shan, who won the women's windsurfing event at the 1996 Atlanta Games. But other runners include 21 tycoons and 13 politicians. Pansy Ho, a daughter of casino magnate Stanley Ho, will carry the flame, along with Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, son of Hong Kong's richest man, Li Ka-shing.

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