MACAU – Runners carried the Olympic torch past glitzy Las Vegas-style casinos and pastel pink and green colonial buildings Saturday in Macau — the world's most lucrative gambling center.
Spectators waved flags, cheered wildly and chanted "Go China!" as the flame toured the former Portuguese enclave that returned to Chinese rule in 1999. The relay's early stages went smoothly as two columns of police in blue shorts jogged on each side of the torch bearers.
Protests are relatively rare in the tiny city on China's southern coast — the only place in the country where casino gambling is legal.
The torch arrived from Hong Kong, where on Friday it completed a relay that was unhindered. Hong Kong's event was a big contrast from many of the others during the torch's 20-nation overseas tour, which was plagued with demonstrations.
As he waited for the torch, retiree Cheung Leung, 70, said he was angry with the torch demonstrators. "I wanted to shove the protesters aside," he said.
Macau's parade often seemed to be more about Chinese pride than the Olympics. One group of students from mainland China wore white T-shirts that said, "I love China." Others posed with the Chinese flag in front of colonial-style buildings.
Another group held a banner that said, "Love the Chinese race. Build up our country's reputation."
"Macau people feel proud," said Ip Chi-keong, 46, a civil servant. "The Chinese have fulfilled a dream."
He said he was displeased with activists who tried to disrupt the relay overseas.
"It's right to show concern for human rights problems, but I question their tactics," he said.
The relay route included plenty of colonial-style buildings painted in pastel pink, yellow and peach — structures built when Macau was a Portuguese enclave.
Before Macau returned to Chinese rule in 1999, the territory was a darker, more dangerous place where criminal gangs, or triads, waged turf wars with drive-by shootings, kidnappings and car bombs that scared away tourists.
But under Chinese rule, the violent crime rate has dropped and tourists have been flooding into the city, less than one-sixth the size of Washington, D.C. Macau is made of a peninsula on China's mainland and two islands: Coloane and Taipa.
Like Hong Kong, Macau is governed under a "one country, two systems" formula, designed to give the territory a wide degree of autonomy.
After returning to Chinese rule, Macau broke up a monopoly on the gambling business. Casino tycoons from Las Vegas and other places were allowed into the market, creating a big gaming boom. The magnates include U.S. billionaires Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands Corp.
In 2006, Macau overtook the Las Vegas Strip as the world's epicenter of gambling. Its casinos rang up $6.95 billion in gambling revenue, while the Strip made $6.69 billion, regulators in the cities said.
Last year, Macau's casinos raked in more than $10.3 billion in gaming revenue, a jump of 46 percent over the previous year, the government said.
But Macau's leader, Edmund Ho, recently announced the booming city wouldn't issue any new casino licenses soon. He said it's time for the government to review the industry's development before new projects are approved.