Back in February I reported on the visit of the Tibetan Olympic torch and Miss Tibet to Taipei. Early this morning the Tibetan Freedom Torch arrived in Taipei from New Zealand. The torch began its journey around the world on 10 March in Olympia, Greece. It has travelled extensively through Europe and North America.It will reach Tibet on 7 August, the eve of the Beijing Olympic Games.
The torch's first stop in Taipei was at Freedom Square (自由廣場) for a press conference. The speakers included Chou Mei-li of Taiwan Friends of Tibet, Lin Chia-lung, Own Su-Jei of the Taiwan-Tibet Exchange Foundation and Rinzin Tsering, former Chairman of the Taiwan Tibetan Welfare Association.
The torch and the Tibetan supporters then moved to Dunhua Park, outside the gates of the Songshan Airport, to welcome the first group of tourists arriving on direct flights from China.
The only other group out to welcome the Chinese tourists was the Concentric Patriotism Association of the ROC (中華愛國同心會). The police were quite determined about keeping the Tibetan supporters apart from them so I only observed them from a distance. I think they are a pro-unification group.
There was quite a police presence, but I wasn't sure exactly who they were protecting from what. Of far greater concern should be the fact that the KMT government, in its hasty efforts to increase the numbers of Chinese tourists and direct flights, had just allowed a flight from China to land at the domestic airport in the middle of Taipei. The facilities at the airport are not adequate for international flights and I don't believe there has been proper consideration of the security risks involved. Also, as I have written before, the government should be looking to close down Songshan Airport anyway. It is stupid to prop up an inappropriate piece of infrastructure for all the wrong reasons.
On Sunday the torch will be taken to the top of Taiwan's highest peak, Jade Mountain (玉山). This day is of special significance for Tibetans as it is the birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. You can watch a live internet broadcast from 8:00 to 8:30am on Sunday at http://www.live.yahoo.com/taiwanfortibet.
*more photos in the Tibetan Freedom Torch set at flickr.
Update: Two articles from the Taipei Times for more information: Tibetan group welcomes PRC tourists to 'freedom' and Tibetan freedom torch reaches summit of Yushan. The Taiwan Journal writes Tibet torch reaches top of Jade Mountain.