/ 22 April 2008

Torch arrives in Indonesia on grim relay

Indonesian police dispersed about 100 anti-China protesters and detained a foreign activist on Tuesday as the Olympic torch was to make another restricted relay in Jakarta, the latest stop on its fraught journey around the world.

The protesters dispersed after a 30-minute stand-off with police outside the main gate of Bung Karno Stadium, where 80 athletes, officials and television and film stars were due to parade the torch.

Indonesian authorities have deployed about 2 500 police officers and 1 000 members of the military to guard the torch relay, which has been a magnet for anti-China protests during stopovers in Europe and the Americas following Beijing’s crackdown last month on protests in Tibet.

The relay had originally been due to pass through large stretches of the bustling city, but sports officials said the route would be restricted to the vicinity of Bung Karno Stadium, named for Indonesia’s mercurial first president, Sukarno.

Only about 5 000 invitees and accredited members of the media would be allowed into the complex, officials said on Monday.

China had hoped the torch’s seven-continent journey would be a symbol of unity in the run-up to the Beijing Games, but the torch has drawn anti-China protests and increasingly pro-China demonstrations, many involving Chinese studying overseas.

The protesters in Jakarta, grouped under the Indonesian Society for a Free Tibet, shouted ”Free Tibet!” and held up banners reading ”Olympics and crimes against humanity cannot co-exist.”

Police arrested a Dutch citizen taking part in the protest after he failed to show his passport, said local deputy police chief Herri Wibowo.

”They said they had a permit to hold a rally but they could not prove it,” he told reporters.

Seven other protesters briefly detained were released after the crowd agreed to disperse, said protest leader Muhammad Gatot. ”It’s a shame that the Indonesian government is being cowed by China,” he said.

There have been several demonstrations outside the Chinese embassy in Jakarta over Tibet, although they have been small in scale in the mainly Muslim nation.

Rita Subowo, chairperson of the Indonesian Olympics Committee, urged Indonesians to help make this year’s Olympics a success.

”We should not mix sports with politics, race or religion. We must defend the rights of athletes to compete in the Olympics,” she told reporters on Monday. ”I hope the Chinese will be able to resolve their own internal matters.”

The flame travels next to the Australian capital, where organisers said they were rerouting the torch relay from the heart of the capital amid fears of clashes between pro-China and pro-Tibet demonstrators.

Security concerns have also prompted changes to the torch route in Japan and caused sponsors to pull out of a motorcade for Saturday’s relay in Nagano City. — Reuters