Men in khaki swamp Olympic torch relay route

April 15th, 2008 - 8:17 pm ICT by admin  


New Delhi, April 15 (IANS) With hours to go before the Olympic flame arrives here, an anxious security establishment Tuesday reviewed plans, stepped up vigil on the 5,000-odd Tibetans in the city and hoped fervently that the relay scheduled Thursday passes off peacefully. Apprehensive that there could be a repeat of last week when the torch relay in London and Paris was disrupted, commandos from the elite Indo-Tibetan Border Police, paramilitary forces and thousands of policemen swarmed the two-kilometre route from Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace, to the famous India Gate landmark.

But the strong contingent of security personnel could not stop a group of Tibetans who breached the tight security cordon that ringed Rashtrapati Bhavan and its immediate vicinity to stage a mock Olympic torch relay - two days before D-Day Thursday.

Caught completely unawares, the police swung into action and doused the torch but not before the Tibetans entered into a scuffle and a young woman was injured as her jersey caught fire. All the 27 Tibetans were swiftly rounded up and taken to a nearby police station.

Just a day earlier, Tibetans had said they would run a parallel torch relay from Rajghat, Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial, to the Jantar Mantar observatory, a major tourist landmark in the heart of Delhi.

“But we will continue to change our plans. This will be a ‘Tom and Jerry’ show. The cat may have powerful fangs but the mouse will ultimately win,” said Tibetan leader Tensin Tsunde.

Security at the Chinese embassy that has been fortified for almost a month now was intensified with more anti-riot personnel and concertina wires around the periphery of the complex.

Over 3,000 security personnel from the paramilitary forces have been camping at the lawns around Rajpath, turning the area into a sea of khaki.

All were briefed about their respective duties for Thursday. Around 600 plainclothes Delhi policemen are expected to run with the torch procession as an extra security precaution.

The security officials also carried out a dry run along the route.

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was still mum on the list of sportspersons and celebrities expected to take part in the truncated relay. IOA president Suresh Kalmadi is expected to announce the names of the runners on the eve of the relay.

Initially, some 80 names were selected for the run, but uncertainty over the route and security concerns made some of the sportsmen and women excuse themselves. The number of schoolchildren expected to participate in the relay has also been whittled down.

Liu Jing Ming, vice president of the Beijing Organising Committee of the XXIX Olympiad, is expected to arrive in a chartered plane along with a dozen Chinese college students who will act as escorts for the Olympic flame when the torch comes here from Islamabad.

No decision has yet been taken on involving Chinese security personnel, an official source said.

“Negotiations are still on between the Indian and Chinese sides on the details of the security arrangement for the torch relay,” the source told IANS.

Beijing has proposed 16 of its own security personnel guard the torch procession, but New Delhi is not keen to involve them. A decision on this issue is likely to be taken later, the source said.

The torch’s round-the-world trip so far has seen several embarrassing moments for Olympics host China and the protests by pro-Tibet activists has got Indian authorities in a tizzy who anticipate trouble on Thursday.

“We have heard that there might be some self-immolation attempts and even remotely heard of suicide squads being deployed. We will be fanning out our men in all anticipated trouble spots,” a top security official told IANS.

An eight-member Chinese delegation led by former Chinese envoy, Sun Yuxi, who has been specially drafted in the run-up to the ceremony, called on Delhi’s chief secretary Rakesh Mehta to take stock of the preparations and even voiced apprehensions about the extent to which Tibetan protestors would go to disrupt proceedings.

“Some Chinese delegation members felt that they (Tibetans) could also use a hot-air balloon to disrupt the torch relay but we assured them no such incident would occur,” said a senior government official.

India’s newly inducted minister of state for home, Shakeel Ahmed, said the government would make all efforts to secure the safe passage of the torch.

“It is our responsibility and an international commitment to have a successful torch relay but we do not want anyone’s democratic right to be violated,” said Ahmed.

India has also conveyed that, being a democracy, it can’t stop Tibetans from holding protests, but will ensure that they do not come anywhere close to the torch procession.

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