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Rob Taylor, James Grubel24 Apr 2008 07:54
In the biggest pro-Beijing rally of the protest-marred Olympic torch relay, more than 10 000 Chinese Australians rallied in Canberra on Thursday, bringing a sea of red Chinese flags and drowning out Tibetan demonstrators.
Protests and tight security have followed the Olympic torch around the world over the past month, putting China’s domestic and foreign polices under the spotlight ahead of the Games in August.
Beijing had hoped the torch’s progress would be a symbol of unity in the run-up to the Beijing Games. However, it has turned into a public-relations nightmare, forcing host countries to protect the torch with security measures usually afforded a state leader.
Anti-Chinese protests during the previous relay legs have sparked a wave of patriotism amongst Chinese at home and abroad, and on Thursday thousands of Chinese chanting “One China” packed the start and finish of the torch relay in the Australian capital.
“This is a magnificent day for us today to show that Australia can have a peaceful rally.
Watching overseas protests, I felt shamed that they can behave like that,” Wellington Lee from the Victorian (state) Chinese Association said.
In a largely peaceful relay leg, Chinese six-deep lined the 16km relay route, and hundreds of cars drove around Canberra carrying Chinese flags.
“The huge influx of Chinese nationals has given Canberra echoes of the feeling of being overwhelmed, which prevails in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa,” said Australian Greens leader Bob Brown.
Anti-China protests have largely focused on Beijing’s crackdown against demonstrations by Tibetans in China earlier this year.
Protests in Europe and the United States forced relay routes to be shortened in India, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Unlike London, Paris or San Francisco, where torch bearers were jostled by anti-Beijing protesters as they ran, in Canberra a heavy police presence, steel barricades and the city’s wide boulevards ensured runners were unobstructed.
Police arrested seven people after scuffles broke out between Tibetan protesters and Australian Chinese before the start of the relay and as a few Tibetan protesters tried to block the relay.
As the torch made its way along Canberra’s streets, police could be seen moving the two Chinese torch officials away from runners, as local authorities have said only Australian police would be in charge of security.
Two pro-Tibet women charged the torch convoy as it neared Parliament House and were dragged away by police, as one yelled: “They’re torturing my country.”
Another man who sat down on the road in front of the convoy shouting “stop killing Tibet” was quickly dragged away by police.
Police were at times forced to escort Tibetan protesters through a sea of Chinese yelling “Liar, Liar, Liar” every time Tibetans called for human rights.
“We are a bit afraid but we really just hope that our voice can be heard in Beijing,” said Tibetan Tenzin Dhargy.
More than 100 buses carried Chinese Australians to Canberra, said bus operators. The Chinese embassy in Canberra said it did not bus supporters in to the national capital.
“The Chinese embassy has never organised finances or buses for the Chinese students. They organised it themselves,” an embassy press spokesperson said.
But Tibetan protesters rejected the embassy claim.
“They were all bussed here by the embassy, organised by the embassy. We know because they’ve been boasting about it,” Wangyal Phendang, a Tibetan exile now living in Adelaide, said.
“The [Chinese] government paid or their parents in China have,” he said.
Australian authorities said people had a right to protest during the torch relay as long as their actions were peaceful.
“To be allowed to dissent, to speak freely, are markers of our democracy,” said John Stanhope, chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory around Canberra.
“We do not muzzle dissent, just because it might embarrass us or embarrass our friends. We hope our friendships are robust enough to bear a little plain speaking,” he said.
The torch next heads to Nagano, Japan.—Reuters
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