The Mayor of Paris has cancelled a ceremony to mark the passage of
the Beijing Olympic torch, as officials draped a Tibetan flag over
the city hall facade. The Olympic torch relay was interrupted at
least twice on its journey through Paris. Security officials
extinguished the flame and moved the torch to a bus on two occasions
following protests by Pro-Tibet demonstrators. The flame had
travelled only 200 meters from its starting point at the Eiffel
tower before it had to be put out and transferred to a bus. On the
second occasion, an athlete in a wheelchair was carrying the flame
out of a Paris traffic tunnel when protesters stopped it. At least
five protestors have been arrested so far.
Tibet protests force Beijing into IOC talks
By Roger Blitz and Jimmy Burns in London, Ben Hall in Paris and Richard McGregor in Beijing
Published: April 7 2008 09:21 | Last updated: April 8 2008 01:06
Beijing officials are to hold urgent talks with senior members of the Olympic movement about the torch relay, as concern grows among International Olympic Committee members over the effect of pro-Tibet protests on the games.
The proposed discussions follow a second consecutive day of disruption for the torch relay in Europe. Protests by hundreds of pro-Tibetan campaigners and some French politicians against Chinese human rights abuses yesterday forced organisers to cut short the Olympic torch’s 28km trip through Paris.
Chart the 2008 Olympic torch’s global journey
IOC insiders ruled out routes being curtailed or cancelled, but one said talks with Beijing would cover “how the integrity of the torch can be maintained”. One said the backlash against China’s action in Tibet was in danger of casting a “stain on the Olympic movement”.
On Monday night, protests had begun in San Francisco, where the next leg of the relay is due to begin on Wednesday, with campaigners scaling the Golden Gate Bridge.
French police battle to protect the Olympic torch relay in Paris
In London, it emerged that Lord Coe, chairman of the city’s Olympic committee, was inadvertently recorded by Channel 4 News accusing some of the Chinese officials providing security for the torch of being “thugs”.
In comments to a colleague, he said if the organisers of the French part of the torch route do “one thing in Paris, it is to get rid of those guys. They tried to push me out of the way three times...they were thugs”.
Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC, made his strongest comments yet on China’s handling of unrest in Tibet, saying in Beijing he was very concerned “with the international situation and what has happened in Tibet”.
He said there was no momentum for a boycott of the games, but insiders said he and other senior IOC members were worried about the movement becoming tainted by the focus on China’s handling of Tibet.
Accompanying officials had to extinguish the flame on at least two occasions yesterday when protesters bearing Tibetan flags clashed with French police and tried to block the torch’s path along the banks of the Seine.
The last section of the route from the Arc de Triomphe to the south-east corner of the city was cancelled, with the torch completing its journey by bus, even though the French authorities had mobilised 3,000 police officers – some on in-line rollerskates – to secure the way.
Bertrand Delanoë, the socialist mayor of Paris, said Chinese officials had abruptly cancelled a 30-minute pause in the torch’s route in front of the capital’s town hall after the city council had draped a Tibetan flag over the building’s facade. Protest banners were also hung from the Eiffel Tower. The disruption followed a chaotic procession through London on Sunday, when 37 people were arrested. China’s Olympic organisers yesterday condemned the London protests as “vile”.
An internal British police investigation was under way on Monday night into why the event was so disrupted. Senior officers admitted they had not anticipated the level of protest around the torch.
With the relay continuing in the US on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential hopeful, added her voice to calls for a boycott of the opening ceremony of the Olympics, saying George W. Bush should not attend unless there were “major changes by the Chinese government”. Mr Bush has said he will be at the opening.
Additional reporting by Daniel Dombey in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008