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French officials slam Chinese torch security
Reuters[Wednesday, April 09, 2008 02:22]
French officials have criticised Chinese security staff for the way they handled the Olympic torch relay in Paris, scrapping several planned stages and frequently putting the torch on a bus.

The Chinese officials, who included tracksuit-wearing security operatives who ran alongside each torch-bearer, were apparently reacting to pro-Tibet and human rights protests along the route, but some French officials felt they went too far.

"The attitude of the Chinese authorities and their constant prevarication and procrastination made our task more difficult because it slowed down the procession's normal progress," Pierre Mure, director of public order and traffic at Paris police, told TF1 television.

Chinese officials were not immediately available to respond to the comments.

Protests repeatedly disrupted the torch's journey through Paris, as they had done in London the day before, despite the deployment of around 3000 police. The flame was in San Francisco on Tuesday, where further protests are expected.

"They (the Chinese) do not have the same practices towards demonstrations," police spokeswoman Marie Frejus told LCI television, adding that preparatory meetings with the Chinese had sometimes been "difficult".

"We felt there was prevarication on the part of the Chinese authorities. Representatives with whom we were in contact did not all have the same position," she added.

French television footage showed a Chinese official getting out of a car as he approached the Paris town hall and saying the cavalcade should not stop there because of a large crowd of pro-Tibet demonstrators.

That part of the route was scrapped even though a lengthy stop was planned at the town hall. The torch was running roughly an hour late by the time it got to that stage.

Officials extinguished the torch several times on the 28 km jog through Paris before being put on a bus and driven further down the route.

One of the Chinese officials running in the procession extinguished the torch just as two-time Olympic judo champion David Douillet was preparing to hand over to the next athlete, judo world champion Teddy Riner.

"It is incomprehensible. It is as if someone spat in my face," said Douillet, who is head of the French Olympic Committee's athletes' commission.

"They have trampled on the Olympic rings. They have trampled on the athletes who carry the values of the Olympic Games," Douillet told LCI.

Police were filmed grabbing Tibetan flags from protesters. Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said they had received no instructions to do so but she had ordered an internal investigation "to know what conditions this happened in".

Douillet later told RTL radio the Chinese officials did not know how to cope with what was happening, dismissing the tracksuit-clad security operatives as "robots or watchdogs".

"Given what happened yesterday, the athletes are asking themselves one question: how will they be treated in Beijing?"

The flame's Chinese close guard have been strongly criticised before. In London, Sebastian Coe, chairman of the 2012 Olympics organising committee and a two-time Olympic gold medallist, called them "thugs", British media reported.

The flame is due to arrive in Beijing to start the Games on August 8.
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