Thousands protest against China at London torch ceremonyApril 6th, 2008 - 9:39 pm ICT by admin
(Second Lead, with fresh figures and quotes)
By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, April 6 (IANS) At least 25 people were arrested after they broke through huge crowds of pro-Tibet protesters lining the Olympic torch’s run through London Sunday, punctuating the ceremonial event with high-profile protests against China. Anti-Chinese activists disrupted the event within minutes of the torch being lit at Wembley Stadium at 1030 a.m. on an unseasonally cold day when the police rushed to pin down a protester who tried to take the torch.
Throughout the 31-mile route, protesters managed to break through a tight British police cordon and a ring thrown around torch carriers by a special Chinese protection force that ran alongside torch carriers.
Noisy protests climaxed outside Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s office at 10 Downing Street in central London, where scuffles broke out between the police and members of some 1,000 activists who had lined the streets, police said.
Along the journey to Downing Street, the demonstrators periodically tried to snatch or snuff out the torch.
At Downing Street, Brown himself did not take the torch, and his Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell said, “Lawful, peaceful protest is part of the democratic tradition of this country and those pictures (from the event) will be seen round the world.”
Opposition Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg called Brown’s participation “wholly inappropriate” but Jowell said taking part in the ceremony “is not the same thing as condoning the human rights regime in China or condoning the treatment in Tibet.”
“In the next four months the eyes of the world will be on China,” she said, adding Britain will press China to negotiate with the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama and will demand reform in the months following the August Olympics.
Earlier, China’s Ambassador to Britain Fu Ying had to hastily change plans to carry the torch - she was bundled into a car and driven away from central London, but then appeared in the China Town area to take the torch.
Minutes earlier, the police wrestled a man down to the ground as he tried to snatch the torch from Konnie Huq, the Bangladeshi-born presenter of a popular children’s television programme.
She later said she and many athletes sympathised with the protesters but were taking part in the ceremony because they believed in the Olympics values.
“My taking part does not condone in any way what China is doing. A lot of the athletes feel the same way,” Konnie said.
“It’s just unfortunate that China has such a terrible track record when it comes to human rights. I understand the cause completely but this is the platform where change can occur. All eyes will be on the Olympics,” she said.
At yet another point, the police arrested two activists who tried to douse out the flame with a fire extinguisher.
Huge maroon-and-orange Tibetan flags lined the route and activists shouted out “Free Tibet” to the 80 men and women charged with serially carrying the flame.
Countering the Tibetans at some spots were large numbers of Chinese, who waved the Red Communist.
Some 2,000 British police were deployed to protect the torch from disrupters - in addition to a dozen Chinese men who are part of a 33-day, round-the-clock torch protection force, pressed by the Chinese government.
Police were deployed in large numbers to keep the peace between Tibetan and Chinese protesters at two flashpoints - Bloomsbury and outside Downing Street.