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06 Apr 2008 14:40
Anti-China protesters draped in Tibetan flags disrupted the Olympic torch relay through London on Sunday, billed as a journey of harmony and peace.
Scores of Chinese officials in blue suits and British police on foot and bicycles guarded the celebrities and athletes carrying the torch, but demonstrators repeatedly broke through their security cordon.
One man grabbed the torch in west London before police wrestled him to the ground.
Several other protesters threw themselves into the path of the torch.
Police said 10 people had been arrested less than two hours into the relay.
The torch is en route to the 2008 Games that take place in Beijing from August 8 to 24.
Campaigners are protesting against China’s crackdown on pro-independence activists in Tibet and its human rights record. Falun Gong and the Burma Campaign are also demonstrating.
Television personality Konnie Huq said she had been “a bit bashed about” when a demonstrator tried to rip the torch out of her hands.
“I was determined to hang on, it was all a bit of a shock. People were shouting ‘just keep going’,” Huq told BBC television.
The clashes will embarrass China and Olympic authorities.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge said in March at the torch’s lighting in Olympia, Greece, that the 2008 relay was designed to be “a journey of harmony, bringing the message of peace to people of different nationalities, cultures and creeds”.
Instead, the London relay was proving a nightmare for the 2 000 police officers guarding the 80 athletes and celebrities who are carrying the flame by foot, bike, boat and bus across the capital for about eight hours.
Five-time gold medallist Steve Redgrave started the torch’s 50km journey through the capital at Wembley and police scuffled with protesters outside the stadium to try to stop it from being carried on to a double-decker bus.
Barriers kept back anti-China protesters at key points along the route while pro-China activists were allowed to move freely, Reuters witnesses said.
Two men were arrested in west London after letting off a fire extinguisher close to the torch.
“China has no right parading the Olympic torch through London. The relay itself is nothing more than an elaborate propaganda tool to cover its appalling human rights record,” the two men said in a statement read to Reuters by a witness.
Chinese security forces have locked down Tibet and neighbouring provinces to quell anti-Chinese protests and riots that started in mid-March.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown will greet the flame in Downing Street, despite calls from campaigners and politicians for him to boycott the relay.
Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell said Brown’s involvement was an endorsement of Olympic principles and sport.
“It is absolutely not an endorsement of the Chinese government or any of the aspects of the Chinese government that in this country we find completely unacceptable,” she told Sky News.
China has said the Games should not be politicised and the IOC has vigorously defended its police of non-involvement in politics.
Several British celebrities dropped out of the torch ceremony in a show of unity with Tibetan independence activists or to take a stand against China’s human rights record.—Reuters
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