Premier: Thailand 'should be proud' to host Olympic torch

By: AP
By: AP

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- The prime minister said Friday that Thais should be honored the Olympic torch is passing through their country and protesters would be "crazy and unreasonable" to disrupt the relay.

The torch arrived in the morning under tight security and was quickly whisked to a luxury hotel. Thailand's crown princess welcomed the flame, which will be run through Bangkok on Saturday.

The police and military have been ordered to secure the relay to prevent disruptions from protesters of China's human rights record.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said his government was certain it could provide adequate security, but he also lashed out at anyone who may disrupt the relay.

"Whoever tries to destroy the flame is crazy and unreasonable," he told reporters. "Why would anyone protest in Thailand? Why don't they protest in China?"

Protests over China's suppression of Tibetan demonstrations have dogged the torch relay at various stops on its worldwide journey that began at the ancient site of the original Olympics in Greece.

"This is a good thing for Thailand," Samak said. "Thai people should be proud."

On Friday, a major Japanese Buddhist temple declined to serve as the starting point for the April 26 relay in Nagano, citing safety concerns and sympathy among its monks and worshippers for Tibetan protesters.

In Nepal, police detained more than 100 Tibetan protesters outside the Chinese embassy's visa office Friday, many of them monks and nuns. Some who resisted detention were kicked and punched.

A coalition of human rights and other activist groups in Thailand said they would hold a peaceful protest outside the U.N.'s Asian headquarters in Bangkok, which is along the planned relay route.

"We want to show the Chinese government that the crackdown in Tibet did not spark outrage only in the Western world," said Pokpong Lawansiri, coordinator of the Free Tibet Movement.

Bangkok Metropolitan Police Chief Asawin Kwanmuang said more than 1,000 uniformed and plainclothes police officers, along with hundreds of other crowd control and security personnel, would be deployed at Saturday's event.

"We have also asked officials to make sure there are no anti-China signs and banners on buildings in the area and to see that people don't gather in small alleyways near the route to cause disturbances," he said.

But the 6.3-mile run, which will start at Bangkok's Chinatown and ending at the Royal Plaza, could be changed and shortened at the last minute if protesters try to disrupt it, said Gen. Yuttasak Sasiprapha, president of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand.

A police helicopter will follow overhead as police motorcycles ride beside runners. Police vans will also follow along in case the athletes need to jump inside for safety, he said.

Authorities warned that any foreign activists who try to disrupt the event will be deported.

"Supporters of the Tibetan cause have the right to express their views but not to thwart the relay. We will not tolerate that," Yuttasak said.

The torch is scheduled to leave for Malaysia on Saturday night.

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