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Paris protests cut short Olympic torch relay

Latest update : 2008-04-08

Pro-Tibetan protesters succeeded in disrupting the Olympic torch relay in Paris, forcing officials to put the torch on a bus after a day of clashes that saw the flame extinguished three times. (Report : R. Thompsett)

It was billed by the Chinese authorities as “the harmonious journey,” but the Paris leg of the 2008 Olympic torch relay Monday did not go according to script, with protests, arrests and scuffles between pro-Tibet demonstrators and security officials disrupting the flame’s passage through the French capital.


Three times in the course of its 28-kilometer route through the City of Lights, the Olympic flame was extinguished by security officials and the torch was finally put on a bus for the final leg of the Paris relay.


After four hours of a chaotic journey through the streets of Paris, Chinese officials finally called off the relay, with the torch reaching the Charléty Stadium, on the southern edge of Paris, by bus.


Reporting from the Charléty Stadium, FRANCE 24's Lanah Kammourieh,  following the relay, said the torch arrived “quite discreetly” at the stadium. “The torch arrived on a bus, and there were only some fireworks to signal that it had arrived at its final destination after a hectic day,” she said.


Following a pattern throughout the day, protesters at the stadium attempted to disrupt the proceedings, said Kammourieh. “One man tried to chain himself to the tramway right near the Charléty Stadium,” she said. “Other protesters attempted to unfurl a banner against the Beijing Games, but they were stopped by the police.”


City Hall ceremony cancelled


While scuffles marred the Olympic torch relay in London on Sunday, Kammourieh said Paris had gone even further, with protesters succeeding in disrupting the itinerary of the relay.


Altercations broke out shortly after the relay set off from the Eiffel Tower Monday morning despite the high security presence, with “demonstrations every few meters” according to FRANCE 24’s Nicolas Germain, reporting from along the relay route.  


A planned ceremony at the city’s grand City Hall before its arrival at the Charléty Stadium was cancelled at the request of the Chinese authorities organizing the relay, according to the office of the Paris mayor.


"The Chinese officials decided they would not stop here because they were upset by Parisian citizens expressing their support for human rights. It is their responsibility," Paris Mayor Bernard Delanoë told reporters.


Adding to the mayhem, pro and anti-Chinese demonstrators faced off along the route. “Welcome to Beijing,” screamed a group of pro-China supporters in unison, waving Chinese national flags.


But when a pro-Tibet demonstrator handed the group a flag with the Olympic rings represented by handcuffs, it was summarily torn by the pro-China protester.


‘Olympic values were a bit ridiculed today’


Monday’s mayhem was an embarrassment for French as well as Chinese officials organizing the relay.


In an interview with France 2 television, Sports Minister Bernard Laporte criticized Monday’s protests. "The Olympic flame is a symbol of peace, of respect and of solidarity,” said Laporte. “Olympic values were a bit ridiculed today."


Chinese authorities condemned the attempts to sabotage the relay as "vile," according to the AFP news service.


In a speech to the Association of National Olympic Committees in Beijing, Monday, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge said, "Violence for whatever reason is not compatible with the values of the torch relay and the Olympic Games."


Chinese media briefly mentions protests


China’s state-controlled CCTV only briefly mentioned disruptions in Paris, saying "Tibetan separatists" had tried to disrupt the relay. Chinese media reports spoke of "the warm welcome by Paris inhabitants, overseas Chinese and Chinese students."


While reports of the Paris disruptions made the news across the world, there were some supporters of the Chinese state media censorship within the Chinese diaspora. “It's a good thing that there is censorship because if not, Chinese people would end up getting very violent, especially against westerners,” wrote a FRANCE 24 Observer who moved from China to Canada six years ago.


Monday was the second day of protests during the 2008 Olympic torch relay. On Sunday, scuffles marred the Olympic torch relay in London, putting French authorities on alert for disruptions by pro-Tibet protesters. Paris police had deployed some 3,000 police officer in helicopters, on horseback and on roller blades for the final European leg of the relay.


Despite the security presence and the lessons from Sunday’s demonstrations in London, Kammourieh said Paris had gone even further, as protesters succeeding in disrupting the itinerary of the relay.


The Olympic flame will now fly to its next stop, San Francisco. It is expected to remain a magnet for anti-Chinese protests ahead of the games.


The flame is due to return to Beijing on Aug. 6, two days before it will be used to light the cauldron at the Olympic opening ceremony.


Date created : 2008-04-08