SANYA, China - After a journey marked by protests, the Olympic torch reached this southern Chinese seaside resort last 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 lighted this morning.
Actor Jackie Chan and basketball star Yi Jianlian were to be among the 208 people carrying the torch today along palm tree-lined roads looking out over the South China Sea.
Organizers and police said security measures were being taken but declined 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.
Yesterday's leg in Macao 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 Macao 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 torch protests had angered many Chinese people.
Meanwhile yesterday, the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile expressed optimism about upcoming talks with Chinese officials, but cautioned not to expect too much from the first meeting between the two sides since the violent protests in Tibet.
Talks were scheduled to begin today and last for a day or two in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, which neighbors Hong Kong, said Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharmsala, India.