SANYA, China (AP)—After a much-protested journey, the Olympic torch reached this southern Chinese seaside resort Saturday night, beginning what organizers and Chinese citizens promised would be a trouble-free national tour.

The protests and last-minute route changes that haunted the torch along its international relay route were expected to be over. Instead, locals talked excitedly about welcoming the Olympic flame.

“Even if no police were here, we would protect the torch with our bodies!” said an 18-year-old vendor who gave his family name as Zhao. He was selling Chinese flags near the stage where the torch was to be lit Sunday morning.

Actor Jackie Chan and basketball star Yi Jianlian were to be among the 208 people carrying the torch Sunday along palm tree-lined roads looking out over the South China Sea.

Organizers and police said security measures were being taken but refused to give details. Media access to the torch’s arrival was limited to three Chinese outlets, organizers said.

Criticism of China’s human rights record has turned the torch relay into one of the most contentious in recent history. Protests dogged stops in Greece, Paris, London and San Francisco.

The torch’s three-month run across mainland China was likely to be less troubled than elsewhere, although disruptions could occur during the relay in Tibet or the western region of Xinjiang.

Its Saturday leg in Macau went smoothly, but the relay Friday in Hong Kong was disrupted by Chinese shouting down supporters of Tibetan independence. The territory, a former British colony, enjoys broader freedom of expression than the rest of China.

The runners in Macau carried the torch past the glitzy Las Vegas-style casinos that have revived the once seedy, listless port city’s economic fortunes.

Columns of paramilitary police in sportswear jogged beside the torch bearers. The crowd seemed intent on celebrating China, sometimes more so than the Olympics, chanting, “Go China!”

The Chinese government now will have a chance to quiet some of the controversy that has surrounded the Olympics in recent weeks. A broad uprising among Tibetans against Chinese rule and a resulting clampdown led to protests during several legs of the torch relay overseas and highlighted China’s tight control on dissent, religion and the media—issues the government hopes Olympics will deflect.

The torch protests left many Chinese furious.

“Those things won’t happen here because we have class,” said a man who gave his name as Li, as he erected crowd barriers around the torch lighting site in Sanya.

But not many Sanya residents were excited about the upcoming torch relay, despite the Olympics banners and constant propaganda on television. One vendor in the city’s best known street for pirated goods shrugged and offered a souvenir lighter for just over a dollar.

“Like a small Olympic torch,” Sun Ruihai said, flicking it to life.