The Olympic torch’s journey to the Beijing Olympics is threatening to turn from triumphal progress into marathon humiliation. Protesters are rushing like moths to the Olympic flame.

The lighting of the torch in Athens was awkward enough. It took arrests and heavy-handed policing to keep pro-Tibet demonstrators at bay. Things could get worse this weekend, when the torch will reach London to be greeted by a combustible mix of police, demonstrators and patriotic Chinese students. Other potential trouble spots on the route to the Olympic opening ceremony in August include San Francisco and New Delhi. Then there is the trip across Tibet itself. The one spot on the Olympic torch’s progress where we can be guaranteed that there will be no public demonstrations is Pyongyang.

Is the Chinese government beginning to regret its triumph in securing the Olympics for Beijing? The games were meant to be a coming-out party for modern China – playing a similar role to that of the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 and the Seoul Olympics of 1988.

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