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Thousands Protest as China Olympic Flame Carried Through London

Posted by Author on April 7, 2008

Paul Lewis and Paul Kelso, The Guardian, UK, Monday April 7 2008-

Campaigners complained of heavy-handed police tactics during the Olympic torch relay yesterday as officers were seen pulling down Tibetan flags, barging bystanders away from the route, threatening arrest under anti-terrorist legislation and telling protesters to remove “Free Tibet” T-shirts.

From the outset the flame was flanked by a mobile protective “ring” of specialist Metropolitan police officers and a dozen Chinese security officials. They were trailed by a team of police cyclists who occasionally used their bicycles to fend off protesters, and a convoy of security, sports stars and VIPs.

Demonstrators said the heavy-handed tactics violated their right to protest. “They said I was not allowed to wear my T-shirt,” said Yonten Ngama, at Wembley Stadium. “It says ‘No torch in Tibet, China Stop the Killing and Talk to the Dalai Lama’, but they said I had to take it off.”

Metropolitan Police Commander Jo Kaye denied that excessive force had been used. “The Met has clearly stated in the build-up to this event that we will facilitate lawful protest, however we will not tolerate continued attempts to breach the safety, security and safe passage of the torch and its bearers,” he said.

He added: “Our job was to make sure the torchbearers got through safely, and they did.”

Around 2,000 Metropolitan police, including airborne, mounted and river units, were mobilised at an estimated cost of about £1m, but at points along the route they seemed overstretched.

Several of the torchbearers were forced to stop as security personnel pushed away swooping protesters, and one demonstrator grabbed hold of the torch while it was being carried by television presenter Konnie Huq. He was quickly wrestled to the ground. “While I was running with the torch, from out of nowhere a guy ran out and tried to wrestle the torch from me,” Huq told Sky News. “It was quite a short skirmish. But the flame stayed alight and we carried on.”

Two activists were arrested after trying to put out the torch with fire extinguishers. Martin Wyness and Ashley Darby described the relay as a propaganda campaign by China to cover its “appalling human rights record”, adding: “Like many people in the UK we feel China has no right parading the Olympic torch through London.”

As the relay hit trouble, the organisers made several changes of plan. The Chinese ambassador’s route was diverted through Chinatown because of protesters near the British Museum, where she had been expected to receive it.

There was also an embarrassing incident at Downing Street when Chinese security officials appeared at a photoshoot, blocking television coverage of prime minister Gordon Brown standing beside the flame.

On two occasions when the flame was supposed to be carried on foot – at Bloomsbury Square and Fleet Street – it was instead placed inside a red bus, apparently to shield it from demonstrators breaking police lines.

After the torch made its first crossing of the river, protesters broke away and began running alongside the flame, attempting to break through lines of officers. The security strategy involved keeping protesters apart from groups waving Chinese flags. Campaigners objected to being coralled into designated “protest areas” and scuffles broke out.

Olympics minister Tessa Jowell played down suggestions the games had been tainted by the response to the protests. “This has not been damaging to London. It is always important for perception not to overtake fact,” she said.

“There are very particular reasons to do with the tension between China and Tibet and the sense of outrage among many people in this country about China’s human rights record, that have given rise to the incidents that we have seen today.”

Matt Whitticase from the organisation Free Tibet said: “We are absolutely delighted that so many people turned out despite the terrible weather to show their solidarity with the people of Tibet and their plight, and to expose as propaganda China’s claim that the torch relay is a journey of harmony.”

Chinese students had been instructed not to intervene in any protests or engage in shouting matches with pro-Tibetan groups, although that directive was not heeded at all times.

Wiping blood from his chin, Xiao Zhang, a 25-year-old Chinese student, said he had been attacked after he and his friends had chanted “liars” at pro-Tibetan campaigners. “They grabbed my flag, my Chinese flag, and put it on the ground. I don’t know who hit me.”

His friend Hawk, 26, said: “The pro-Tibetan protesters kept shouting, so we shouted back. When you want to give an opinion, what should you do? Stay quiet? Of course not – in this country I am free to say what I want.”

Asked if he could do the same in his native China, he replied: “Here is Britain – there is China. The point is they’re different.”

Original report from The Guardian

3 Responses to “Thousands Protest as China Olympic Flame Carried Through London”

  1. APE said

    It sounds to me like the police were doing a good thing. It’s not a peaceful protest if asshats are blocking the way, grabbing at people, harassing and whatnot. If you don’t protest peacefully, expect harsh retaliation and get over yourself. MLK Jr. is turning in his grave.

  2. curly said

    At least we now know that the crushers of dissent in Tibet were responsible for the security in London.

    I felt nauseated.

  3. curly said

    It was a Black day for Gordon Brown and the UK govt.
    Who authorised the use of these Chinese ‘security personnel?’

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