UK cops battle protesters on Olympic torch procession

British police battled to keep pro-Tibet protesters away from the Beijing Olympics flame, making 30 arrests as the torch went on a high security tour of London on Sunday.

Police on bikes and running alongside the flame escorted each member of the relay. There were continual scuffles along the route as members of the relay team of renowned British athletes, pop stars and television personalities handed over the flame to the next runner.

Two demonstrators against China’s crackdown in Tibet were arrested as they attempted to extinguish the torch. A third was pushed to the ground as he tried to seize the flame from a British TV presenter taking part in the relay.

Police said they had made 30 arrests for public-order offences and estimated that more than 1 000 demonstrators were out in force.

Shouts of “Free Tibet, Free Tibet,” echoed around the streets, while demonstrators held up banners and had their faces painted in the colours of the Tibetan flag.
Pro-China supporters were also out in force.

Former Olympic champion rower Steve Redgrave started the relay that began at Wembley Stadium under unseasonal snowfall.

A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy said that its ambassador to Britain, Fu Ying, had run without trouble in London’s Chinatown. He would not confirm reports that her route had been changed to avoid trouble.

Beijing has faced international criticism over its crackdown on protests in Tibet that began on March 10 and which have spread to other areas of China with Tibetan populations.

Exiled Tibetan leaders say more than 150 people have been killed in the unrest. China has given a figure of 20.

But China’s top official in Tibet, rejecting demands by activists around the world, insisted on Sunday that the Beijing Olympics torch relay would pass through Tibet as planned.

About 2 000 British police officers were out in force to protect the London torch procession.

Ahead of the relay London police said it expected six organisations, including the Free Tibet movement, Falungong and the Burma Campaign, to have demonstrators on the streets.

But they were outnumbered by thousands of people who lined the streets to enjoy the relay and carnival atmosphere. A number of China supporters also braved the cold temperatures to voice their political opinions.

The torch was met by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at his Downing Street residence. Brown has brushed aside criticism of his plans to attend Beijing Olympic ceremonies, insisting it is the right thing as London will host the 2012 Games.

David Cameron, leader of Britain’s opposition Conservatives, acknowledged many people were “very unhappy” about China’s crackdown in Tibet but sided with the government in rejecting calls for a boycott of the Olympics.

“I don’t think we are at the stage yet where we should be considering a boycott,” he told Sky Television. “I think having a policy of robust engagement with China is right.”

An array of British sports and entertainment stars, flanked by police and security officers, carried the torch on a 50km route, taking in the site of the London 2012 Olympic Games and finishing at the O2 arena.

Among the torch-bearers were round-the-world sailor Ellen MacArthur, runner Kelly Holmes, tennis player Tim Henman, footballer Theo Walcott, rugby player Kenny Logan, rower Ed Coode, cricketer Kevin Pietersen, violinist Vanessa Mae, singers the Sugababes, rugby coach Clive Woodward and heptathlete Denise Lewis.

Stand-up comedian Francesca Martinez withdrew Thursday in protest over the China.

The torch heads for Paris on Monday and French authorities have also prepared massive security for the relay, which has sparked protests since it was lit in Greece a week ago at the start of its 21-country journey to Beijing.—AFP