Olympic torch relay ends in Canberra, six arrestedApril 24th, 2008 - 1:48 pm ICT by admin
Sydney, April 24 (DPA) Several people were arrested and minor scuffles reported between the police and protesters Thursday as the beleaguered Beijing Olympic torch relay made its way under an intense security cordon along Canberra’s 16 km, steel-barricaded route to Commonwealth Park. Unlike disruptions seen in Europe and the US, the relay was smooth here, with the Olympic flame ending its run uninterrupted in full view of spectators, protesters and the media in a festive and noisy atmosphere.
Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) president John Coates thanked torchbearers, spectators, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government, the police and Beijing Olympic officials.
“When I welcomed the flame yesterday (Wednesday), I said how proud I was to be welcoming it on behalf of the AOC to our shores on the fourth occasion. I will simply conclude now by saying how proud I am to be Australian. Thank you!” Coates told reporters.
According to Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) Radio, a barrage of projectiles, including water bottles, were thrown, and some arrests were made following minor scuffles between pro-China and pro-Tibet demonstrators.
ACT government spokesman Jeremy Lasek told Sky News he believed there had been six arrests but the day had been a “raging success”.
Thousands of Chinese supporters and a small group of Tibetan protesters descended on the Australian capital and were lining the route of the torch relay, which has already made its way across Lake Burley Griffin and past Parliament House.
The lead-up to the event was marked by a strong turnout of thousands of pro-China students from Melbourne and Sydney. Students from China make up the largest proportion of overseas students, accounting for 22 percent or 69,848, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures for 2006.
Earlier, Aboriginal elder Matilda House led the welcome to country in a traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremony.
There was wide applause as the torch was lit in Canberra, and the first runner, former Young Australian of the Year and indigenous leader Tania Major, flanked by police and several Chinese flame attendants, made her way to the lake from Reconciliation Place.
“Mate, words alone cannot explain how I’m feeling. I just had this big emotional pride. It was such an honour to be the first runner and kick it off, particularly with all the press that’s been going on in the lead-up,” Major told reporters after the run.
There was a hot-air balloon flying over central Canberra with a banner reading “Don’t Torch Tibet”, and a skywriter, commissioned by Australian Greens leader Bob Brown, has written “Free Tibet” in the sky above the partly cloudy capital.
Brown, who joined pro-Tibet protesters at Parliament House, told reporters: “The spiritual strength of the Tibetan people is a beacon to the whole world, and up there in the sky is something that the bosses in Beijing cannot erase.”
Earlier, in a chilly weather, Tibetan protesters chanted “Shame on China” and “Human Rights for Tibet” slogans, while the Chinese supporters replied with “Stop Lying” and “One China Forever” and “Olympics for all”.
A strong contingent of 440 athletes will represent Australian at the Beijing Olympics, beginning in less than 100 days. The torch is due to reach Japan Saturday.
Meanwhile, three men and a woman were arrested after flying a pro-Tibet protest flag from a building in Kings Cross, Sydney, and will face court next month.
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