Grim-faced Chinese guards protecting the Olympic torch have attracted further criticism ahead of the global relay’s arrival in India, where bitter memories of war with its neighbour remain fresh.
Phalanxes of Chinese security personnel are accompanying the flame’s around-the-world journey to shield it from pro-Tibetan demonstrators.
One Indian general who fought Chinese troops in the 1962 war attacked New Delhi for allowing Beijing to guard the torch.
”The relay may have been marred by Tibetan protests in France and England but I completely I disagree that the Chinese should be doing anything with its security on Indian territory,” Lieutenant General Afsir Karim said.
”There is something terribly wrong in how India is handling this situation and it’s outrageous that a foreign force will be the custodian of the torch when we have more than ample experience in crowd management,” Karim said.
An advance team of Chinese commandos flying to India would provide ”proximate security” for the flame when it reaches New Delhi from Islamabad on April 17, security officials were quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India.
”The Olympic Holy Flame Protection Unit, which has personnel from the Beijing’s Special Police Force, will form the inner security ring for the torch,” a Home Ministry official, who asked not to be named, said.
”The outer cordon will be managed by our police and the paramilitary,” he said.
Arun Bhagat, a former Indian intelligence chief, argued that although Chinese security had been approved by the International Olympic Committee, Indian security could protect the torch from protesters.
”We have a lot of experience in controlling crowds and although Tibetans are a tough lot, we can handle them,” Bhagat said.
India is home to Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who fled to the country after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, and at least 100 000 of his supporters.
George Fernandes, defence minister in the previous Hindu nationalist government, reiterated comments he made a decade ago that China was the ”potential threat number one” to India and said New Delhi should never have recognised Tibet as part of China.
The Chinese security came in for stiff criticism in Paris and in London for the way they have handled the torch’s passage through the cities. In Paris on Monday, they cut short torchbearers’ runs for fear of pro-Tibet protesters.
Olympic gold medallist Sebastian Coe, chairperson of the London 2012 Olympics organising committee, slammed the Chinese security as ”thugs”, according to British media.
The United States leg of the Olympic torch relay ended with a closing ceremony at San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday after a chaotic dash through the city after protesters blocked parts of the route.
Among those invited to join the New Delhi relay is Rahul Gandhi of the charismatic Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, touted as a future premier, along with other politicians and sportsmen and women.
Gandhi was yet to say whether he would take part but an aide said he had been advised to stay away. ”It’s a political minefield and it will provide strong ammunition to the opposition,” he said.
India’s first woman police officer, Kiran Bedi, who was also invited to carry the flame, backed out on Wednesday, saying she loved freedom and could not ”run in a cage”.
India’s football captain, Bhaichung Bhutia, also refused to carry the torch, saying he wanted to show solidarity with Tibetans.
However, Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan said he would take part, noting the Olympics was a sporting, not a political event, and it would be tough to find a country ”where the government of that place has not been responsible for human rights violations” to stage the Games.
India has curtailed the run from 9km to 3km due to fears of rowdy protests. — AFP