/ 9 April 2008

France blames Chinese for Olympic torch chaos

France’s interior minister faulted the Chinese organisers of the Olympic torch relay for its chaotic run through Paris, saying in an interview on Wednesday that French police merely provided technical support.

“The Olympic rule is that the organising country is always responsible for preserving the flame,” Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told Le Parisien newspaper.

“They made the decisions concerning the flame during its journey in Paris,” she said. “They decided during many stretches of the run to take cover in a bus or not to make some scheduled stops.”

Protests in Paris on Monday by human rights campaigners angry at China’s crackdown in Tibet forced organisers to extinguish the torch five times and to seek refuge with the relay athletes in a bus.

Alliot-Marie said she had ordered an inquiry into reports that French police seized Tibetan flags from protesters “to determine whether confiscated objects did not represent any danger”.

She said French police were responsible for general security during the event, but that the “bubble” surrounding the athletes carrying the torch was the responsibility of the Chinese organisers, who provided the security guards.

“The police services were ordered to prevent anyone from penetrating inside the security bubble,” she said. “The police services provided technical support.”

President Nicolas Sarkozy described the protests that marred the torch relay a “sad spectacle”, adding that “most demonstrators did so in a very proper way”.

The torch run was set to continue in San Francisco on Wednesday, with organisers bracing for more protests, having already cancelled part of the route.

International leaders are under pressure to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing on August 8.

French judo champion David Douillet, who was among the torch runners, assailed the Chinese security detail, calling them “robots” and “attack dogs”.

“They push you around, badger you and insult you in Chinese,” Douillet told RTL radio.

Former British Olympic champion Sebastian Coe, who heads the London 2012 Games, was overheard this week by a British broadcaster describing the Chinese officials guarding the Olympic flame as “thugs”.

He said that organisers of the French leg of the torch relay should “get rid of those guys” because the Chinese guards “tried to push me out of the way three times” during the relay in London on Sunday. — AFP