The Beijing Olympic flame arrived in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City late Monday from North Korea, an AFP photographer saw, on one of the final legs of its troubled worldwide journey.
The torch arrived at around 11:20 pm local time (1620 GMT) — after a trouble-free relay in Pyongyang — in communist Vietnam’s largest city, formerly Saigon, where security was tight ahead of Tuesday’s relay.
About 100 security forces were on duty at the city’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport, where the flame was welcomed by some 40 Chinese officials, diplomats and young people waving the Chinese flag.
Vietnam’s government has promised its northern neighbour and communist ally that the relay will not be marred by protesters, following pro-Tibet demonstrations in cities including London, Paris and San Francisco.
Vietnamese activists have announced plans to peacefully protest against Beijing’s claim over the disputed Spratly and Paracel island chains in the South China Sea, leading to several police detentions in recent days.
Street rallies are rare in communist Vietnam, but a small number of activists said they planned to protest Tuesday in the capital Hanoi and the port of Ho Chi Minh City, where the relay was set to start at 1130 GMT.
Some 60 runners will carry the torch from the downtown Opera House along a secret route 10 and 13 kilometres (6.2 to eight miles) long to the Military Zone 7 Competition Hall stadium near the airport, officials said on Sunday.
Security was expected to be tight, but officials did not announce how many police would be deployed and remained tight-lipped about other details.
Pro-Tibet rallies have dogged the relay elsewhere to protest China’s military crackdown in the Himalayan region, but in Vietnam activists are mainly driven by the long-simmering South China Sea dispute.
Both Beijing and Hanoi are among claimants to the Spratly and Paracel island chains, a dispute that has stirred nationalist passions and late last year triggered street rallies rarely seen in Vietnam, a one-party state.