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Olympic torch relay overshadowed by protests
The Guardian, UK[Sunday, April 06, 2008 16:49]
Fire extinguisher also let off and 10 arrested as Free Tibet activists disrupt Olympic relay

By Scott Anthony

A demonstrator is hauled as the Olympic torch makes its way through London
A demonstrator is hauled as the Olympic torch makes its way through London
London, April 6 - Despite a huge police presence and a large group of Chinese security guards, the Olympic torch parade has been continually interrupted along the 31-mile journey from Wembley Stadium to the O2 Arena today.

A Free Tibet protestor attempted to wrestle the Olympic flame from TV presenter Konnie Huq before being bundled to the ground by police, two others were taken away after trying to put out the torch with a fire extinguisher, and several other protestors threw themselves in front of those carrying the torch. So far 10 people have been arrested.

Thousands of protestors also waved banners proclaiming: 'Torch of Shame', 'Stop The Killing In Tibet', 'No Olympic Torch In Tibet' and 'China Talk To Dalai Lama'. Many were wearing Tibetan flags and carrying signs including 'Human rights. Not a game'. While many people who lined the streets waved as the torch passed, others booed the Olympic vehicles, including a bus carrying many of the torch bearers.

Pro-Tibet protestors demonstrate outside Wembley Stadium
Pro-Tibet protestors demonstrate outside Wembley Stadium
Helping to lead the chants was Buddhist monk Ngawang Khyentse, who said: "We can't just remain silent. We have no other choice than to protest because there is no other voice for Tibetans inside Tibet, so we have to speak out for human rights. At the very least the British government has to speak out and condemn the crackdown in Tibet. We are not asking for a boycott of the games, although there are many different views, we are asking for pressure to be put on the Chinese government to help the situation in Tibet."

Conservative leader David Cameron acknowledged many people were "very unhappy" about what was happening in Tibet, but he rejected calls for a boycott. "I don't think we are at the stage yet where we should be considering a boycott," he said. "I think having a policy of robust engagement with China is right."

Earlier Britain's greatest Olympian, the five-times rowing champion Sir Steve Redgrave, took the first leg of the 31-mile trip passing the Olympic flame to 16-year-old schoolgirl Cheyenne Green at a frosty Wembley Stadium. British Olympic Association chairman Lord Moynihan told crowds: "The power of this Olympic torch will shine a light on the recesses of the host city and China's record."

Tens of thousands of spectators are expected to line the route from Wembley to Greenwich, along with 2,000 Metropolitan Police - including airborne, mounted and river units - for the eight-hour event. It is still unclear whether the Chinese Ambassador to London, Fu Ying, will take part in the relay.

This week there had been suggestions that her presence could be a flashpoint for protesters and it was suggested that she may pull out to spend the day with the official Beijing delegation at a London hotel.

Sports stars and celebrities are among the 80 torch bearers in the relay which is costing the Greater London Authority more than £40,000 to stage. But campaigners, who say China has tainted the torch with its human rights record both at home and away, plan protests along the route.

Tom Porteous, of Human Rights Watch, said: "The prime minister should use this occasion to speak publicly about China's Olympian abuses. The main thing the Olympic torch relay illuminates in Britain is the government's lack of public strategy to address Olympic-related human rights issues in China in advance of the Beijing Games."
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