By James Macintyre and Nigel Morris
The mysterious Chinese guards who provoked an outcry as they aggressively protected the Olympic torch this week have been revealed as a paramilitary spin-off from the country's army, according to reports. Chinese state television has said that the squad – who wore distinctive blue tracksuits – were handpicked from the People's Armed Police (PAP).
The PAP, part of the the People's Liberation Army (PLA), is accused of suppressing recent protests in Tibet. The Free Tibet Campaign says it received eyewitness accounts connecting the PAP with brutality, including firing live ammunition into crowds of Tibetan protesters on 3 April in Grdze county in the Sichuan province.
Matt Whitticase, of the Free Tibet Campaign, said: "It beggars belief that personnel from the PAP were allowed on to the streets of London at all, let alone that they were allowed to push Metropolitan Police around. They come from the same unit that shot dead in cold blood a Tibetan womanon the Nangpa-la Pass."
At Westminster, the main opposition parties wrote to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, registering their alarm over the presence of the Chinese guards.
David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "Security in London is a matter for the police and security services." He asked Ms Smith: "Who were this group of individuals? On whose behalf were they acting? Are they, as reported, drawn from the Chinese People's Armed Police?
What exactly was their role, jurisdiction and authority in relation to the relay?" Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said he was "dismayed" about the heavy-handed tactics, which included jostling and pushing protesters to the ground. He asked: "Who gave permission for the 'flame attendants' to take part in the torch relay? Who were they? Were they accredited by the Security Industry Authority?"
Yesterday the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd warned that he would not allow China to deploy its own security for the torch in Canberra this month. Lord Coe, the organiser of the 2012 London Games, was overheard on Monday describing the Chinese guards as "thugs".