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North Koreans greet Olympic torch

  • Story Highlights
  • Controversial Olympic torch relay arrives in Pyongyang, North Korea
  • Monday's leg was protest free; Communist state is a close ally of China
  • Sunday's leg in Seoul, South Korea, was guarded by at least 8,000 riot police
  • Pro-Tibet demonstrators disrupted relay in London, Paris, San Francisco
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(CNN) -- The Olympic torch arrived in Pyongyang, the capital of Communist North Korea, on Monday in the latest leg of its controversial global relay ahead of this year's Beijing Games in neighboring China.

In stark contrast to scenes elsewhere in the world, the torch enjoyed an untroubled passage through the city, accompanied by only a handful of escorts as cheering crowds lined the streets to wave flowers and North Korean and Chinese flags, greeting the first ever visit of the Olympic flame to the reclusive Asian nation.

The torch has become a focus for protests over China's human rights record and its alleged crackdown in Tibet, with pro-Chinese supporters also rallying on the streets during recent Asian legs in large counter-demonstrations.

In the South Korean capital of Seoul on Sunday, protests were also colored by criticism of China for deporting North Korean refugees back to their impoverished country.

Around 8,000 riot police and three rows of guards were deployed along the route with demonstrators outnumbered by Chinese students. Police stopped one man from setting himself on fire after dousing himself with gasoline as well as breaking up scuffles.

But the authoritarian North Korean regime is a close ally of the government in Beijing and Monday's 12-mile (19km) procession from the Juche Idea Tower to the Kim Il Sung Stadium was free of anti-China dissent.

Torch bearers included Kim Yong Nam, the head of North Korea's rubber-stamp parliament, and 72-year-old Park Tu Ik, a hero of the North Korean football team which reached the quarterfinals of the 1966 World Cup in England. Video Watch the event in Pyongyang »

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"It's a bright and colorful day for everybody in the city," Liu Xiaoming, China's ambassador to North Korea told Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency. "The flame brings friendship, best wishes and passion to Pyongyang."

The flame's next stop is Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, for a torch relay on Tuesday. The city was known as Saigon -- the capital of the former South Vietnam -- until 1975.

Tens of thousands of pro-Tibet demonstrators have disrupted the relay in London, England; Paris, France; and San Francisco, California, prompting dozens of arrests. Stops in Argentina, Tanzania and Oman were trouble-free.

Security concerns prompted Pakistani officials to close the relay to the public and hold it at a stadium in front of invited guests. India truncated the route and kept protesters at bay by lining the route with thousands of police officers and paramilitary troopers.

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In Bangkok, Thailand, the Chinese Embassy had provided transportation and shirts to wear as a means to counter anti-China demonstrations, Chinese students there told CNN.

The torch relay ends its round-the-world journey in Beijing in August. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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