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London: The 30 Blue-clad Olympic Torch Guards Are China Paramilitary Police

Posted by Author on April 10, 2008

Jane Macartney in Beijing and Richard Ford, The Times, UK, April 9, 2008-Chinese guards in blue

The guards protecting the Olympic flame had paramilitary training and were chosen by Beijing for their toughness and fitness (photo from The Times)

China’s blue-clad flame attendants, whose aggressive methods of safeguarding the Olympic torch have provoked international outcry, are paramilitary police from a force spun off from the country’s army.

The squad of 30 young men from the police academy that turns out the cream of the paramilitary security force has the job at home of ensuring riot control, domestic stability and the protection of diplomats.

Questions are now being asked as to who authorised their presence as the torch was carried through London. The Conservatives demanded clarification from the Government last night.

The guards’ task for the torch relay is to ensure the flame is never extinguished – although it was put out three times in Paris – and now increasingly to prevent protesters demonstrating against Chinese rule in Tibet from interfering with it.

But the aggression with which the guards have been pursuing their brief has provoked anger, not least in London where they were seen wrestling protesters to the ground and were described as “thugs” by Lord Coe.

The Olympic medallist and organiser of the 2012 Games was overheard saying that the officials had pushed him around as the torch made its way through the capital on Sunday. He added that other countries on the route should “get rid of those guys”.

“They tried to punch me out of the way three times. They are horrible. They did not speak English . . . I think they were thugs.”

His comments came after Konnie Huq, the former Blue Peter presenter, who was one of the torchbearers on Sunday, described how she had seen the officials in “skirmishes” with the police.

Ms Huq, who was carrying the torch when a pro-Tibet activist tried to snatch the flame, said of the guards: “They were very robotic, full-on . . . They were barking orders like ‘run’ and ‘stop’ and I was like, ‘Who are these people?’.”

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, wrote yesterday to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, seeking clarification of the role of the Chinese officials. Mr Davis asked: “Who in the British Government authorised their presence and what checks were made as to their background?”

He added: “They appear to have some role in providing security and were seen manhandling protesters. They even accompanied the torch into Downing Street and were highly visible in the picture with the Prime Minister.”

The security men entered Britain on visitors’ visas but the Home Office would not reveal whether they had disclosed on the application form for whom they worked.

Less than a year ago these mysterious “men in blue” were elite students from China’s Armed Police Academy and were selected amid great fanfare to form the grandly titled Sacred Flame Protection Unit.

In China, tens of thousands of their paramilitary colleagues have been deployed across Tibetan areas to restore order during riots, even opening fire when the antiChinese demonstrations have threatened to run out of control again.

It is a long way from those heady days last August when the squad was founded. Zhao Si, their leader, said then: “These men, chosen from around the country, are each tall and large and are eminently talented and powerful.” Online reports said that the shortest of them was 6ft 3in.

Mr Zhao said: “Their outstanding physical quality is not in the slightest inferior to that of specialised athletes.” Their training has involved running 40 to 50 kilometres (25 to 31 miles) a day to ensure the squad is fit enough to keep pace with a relay of torchbearers in cities around the world.

They have also undergone training in local customs and languages of the countries in which they would be deployed. This has included learning some English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese.

A total of 30 men have been assigned to follow the torch overseas. Another 40 will be on duty to trail the Olympic flame around China until it reaches Beijing on August 6, just two days before the start of the Games.

In reports published before the young men became the focus of international attention, Chinese media emphasised their ability to ensure that the flame would stay alight. “They received firstly technical training in how to light the first torch of each session of the relay and save the flame in the lantern at the end of each relay in a more efficient and safe way.”

Yang Zhaoke, director of the Beijing organising committee torch centre, told The Times: “We chose young and vigorous men. They can’t be beansprouts because they have to show good endurance. We can’t change people once they are overseas. They have to be able to run from start to finish.”

Some train in such martial arts as taekwondo or tijiquan in their spare time, he said, but added: “Their job is not to fight but to shelter and protect. They are not there to beat people and they have no right to enforce the law. Only the British police have that right in London, for example.”

A source at Scotland Yard said: “They were here because they came as a part of the package. We made it quite clear that they had no executive powers in Britain.

“They were here to maintain the flame. Their responsibility is to look after the flame and to make sure nothing happens to it. They are there to protect the flame.”

– Original report from The Times:
Unmasked:Chinese guardians of Olympic torch

2 Responses to “London: The 30 Blue-clad Olympic Torch Guards Are China Paramilitary Police”

  1. iblosted said

    there was a time a long time when politics, was not a factor. it used to be about sports, as for the blue suiters, why not protect the torch, its headed for china so china should protect it , as they are doing…

  2. Ben Keeler said

    It is a shame the athletes themselves will be the ones caught up in this garbage

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