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South Korea and China disputed blame on Tuesday for violence by Chinese supporters at the Olympic torch relay here, with Seoul vowing a tough response but Beijing saying they were protecting the flame.In what threatens to become a diplomatic spat, South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-Soo said attacks on Korean protesters during Sunday’s relay damaged national pride.

“Legal and diplomatic measures are necessary as the incident hurt national pride considerably,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted Han as telling a cabinet meeting.

He did not elaborate on what the measures might be.

The row is a further blow to the troubled Beijing Olympic torch, which has been dogged by pro-Tibet activists and critics of China’s human rights record since it left Greece last month on its round-the-world journey.

Anger is growing here over the clashes, recorded on widely circulated video clips, in which Chinese students attacked Koreans protesting Beijing’s rights record.

Justice Minister Kim Kyung-Han told the cabinet that the “illegal violent protests” were very regrettable. “The justice ministry will sternly deal with those responsible, regardless of their nationality.”

Kim said authorities were analysing video clips, adding: “We will go after all those responsible and bring them to account.”

National Police Agency chief Eo Cheong-Soo said Chinese embassy officials had indicated about 1,000 Chinese students were expected to welcome the torch, but 6,500 showed up.

“The Chinese side had worried about attempts to disturb the torch relay but as it turned out, disorderly, impetuous acts were committed by some Chinese students,” Eo told journalists.

The government Monday voiced its “strong regret” to China’s ambassador at the students’ behaviour, which was also fiercely criticised by newspapers and Internet users.

Howeever China, which has repeatedly denounced the anti-Chinese chaos that has hit earlier relay legs, notably in London and Paris, declined to directly condemn the behaviour of its own students.

“Some Chinese students came out to safeguard the dignity of the torch. I believe that’s natural,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.

“Perhaps there were some radical actions, but we should recognise the real situation there,” she added.

“We condemn large-scale violent demonstrations. As to the Chinese students and overseas Chinese, they just had some friction with those who disrupted and sabotaged the torch relay there. That’s totally different.

“We express our solicitude to the South Korean individuals and police who were injured in the process.”

The clashes broke out when around 300 protesters, including North Koreans, demonstrated against China’s forced repatriation of North Korean refugees and its crackdown on Tibetans following violence in the Himalayan region.

Thousands of Chinese demonstrators had also gathered for the start of the relay. In one clash some of the Chinese threw water bottles, stones, chunks of wood and drink cans at their adversaries.

In another incident, Chinese students surrounded and beat up a small group of protesters, according to witnesses. A local newspaper photographer was hit in the head by a stone thrown by the students.

In yet another encounter, recorded on video, hundreds of agitated Chinese chased a few protesters into a hotel lobby and attacked them.

Two American students wearing T-shirts reading “Free Tibet” were mobbed by before being rescued by police, Chosun Ilbo and other newspapers said.

Chosun, the largest-selling daily, said that it doubted “whether China has the common sense and standards to host the Olympic Games.”

The liberal Hankyoreh daily said the conduct of the protesters had “aroused concern that Chinese nationalism is becoming excessive and violent.”

AP [Sunday, April 27, 2008 16:21]
SEOUL, South Korea, April 27 – A North Korean defector tried to set himself on fire to halt the Olympic torch relay through Seoul, while thousands of police guarded the flame Sunday from protesters blasting China’s treatment of North Korean refugees.

Hundreds of China supporters waving the Chinese flag greeted the torch, throwing rocks at anti-Beijing demonstrators. Police ran alongside the flame and rode horses and bicycles on the relay across the city, which hosted the 1988 Olympics.

The torch relay has become a lightning rod for anti-China demonstrations. At other stops, protesters have focused their ire on Beijing’s recent crackdown on anti-government riots in Tibet. But in South Korea, China’s treatment of North Korean defectors has taken center stage.

One of two North Korean defectors Son Jong Hoon, left, pours gasoline as police officers try to detain them during the Beijing Olympic torch run in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, April 27, 2008. Son tried to set himself on fire to halt the Olympic torch relay Sunday in Seoul, where thousands of police guarded the flame from protesters blasting China’s treatment of North Korean refugees.
Thousands of North Koreans, fleeing lives of hardship in a country that restricts all civil liberties, have escaped across the loosely controlled Chinese border, rather than attempt the heavily fortified frontier with the South. Many live in hiding in China, where if caught, they are deported back home to face imprisonment in life-threatening conditions.

The man who tried to immolate himself, 45-year-old Son Jong Hoon, had led an unsuccessful public campaign to save his brother from execution in the North, where he was accused of spying after the two met secretly in China. About an hour into the relay, Son poured gasoline on himself and tried to light himself on fire, but police stopped him.

At the start of the relay, a protester rushed toward the Olympic flame and tried to unfurl a banner calling for China to respect the rights of North Korean refugees. Dozens of police surrounding the torch quickly whisked him away. As it approached the city center, another North Korean defector also tried to impede the run and was arrested
There were no further attempts to stop the torch on its 4 1/2-hour trip through Seoul to City Hall, where it was met by some 5,000 supporters.

Some 8,000 police were deployed across the South Korean capital to guard the torch on its 15-mile run from Olympic Park.

The first runner, the South’s Korean Olympic Committee head Kim Jung-kil, jogged out of the park surrounded by police on horseback, on bicycles, in buses and on foot.

Thousands of Chinese also paced the torch. They carried a large red Chinese flag, chanting “Go China, go Olympics!”


Scuffles broke out near the park between a group of 500 Chinese supporters and about 50 demonstrators. The Chinese side threw stones and water bottles at the others as some 2,500 police tried to keep the two groups apart.

A rock hit a journalist in the head, but there were apparently no other injuries.

“The Olympics are not a political issue,” said Sun Cheng, 22, a Chinese student studying the Korean language in Seoul. “I can’t understand why the Korean activist groups are protesting human rights or other diplomatic issues.”

Seoul is one of the last stops on the torch’s international tour, which ends when the flame arrives in Hong Kong on Wednesday. On Sunday, three human rights activists who planned to protest the relay in Hong Kong were barred from entering the Chinese-ruled territory, local media and the one of the activists said.

The torch heads next to North Korea for its first-ever run in the communist country on Monday. Disruptions were not expected in the North, an authoritarian state that tolerates no dissent.