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Arrests and scuffles as Olympic torch crosses London

April 8, 2008

Jenny Booth and agencies
Times Online (UK)
April 6, 2007

At least 35 people have been arrested as demonstrators succeeded in
disrupting the Beijing Olympic torch relay as it made its way across
London today.

On at least one occasion the Olympic flame was detoured away from its
pre-planned route and placed on a bus on the advice of police, who said
they could no longer guarantee to maintain order in the face of vigorous

At points on the 31 mile route a phalanx of police officers, marching
with their arms locked around each other's shoulders, had to form a
protective ring around the flame in order to ensure that the torchbearer
could continue to make progress.

Amid chaotic scenes television personality Konnie Huq said she had been
“a bit bashed about” when a demonstrator tried to rip the torch out of
her hands.

“I was determined to hang on, it was all a bit of a shock. People were
shouting ’just keep going’,” Ms Huq told BBC television.

Scotland Yard confirmed that two people were arrested in connection with
the scuffle around Ms Huq, a former Blue Peter presenter who was
carrying the flame from Lancaster Road to Blenheim Crescent in
north-west London when protesters rushed forward and grappled with her.

The torch is passing through London on its round-the-world tour en route
for China, where the 2008 Games will take place in Beijing from August 8
to 24.

Campaigners protesting against China’s crackdown on pro-independence
activists in Tibet lined the route, shouting and waving banners. Falun
Gong and the Burma Campaign were also among the protesters.

More than 2,000 Metropolitan Police officers had been mobilised to
protect the torch, which has been a magnet for human rights protesters
since it was lit and began its progress around the world last week. The
London protests have however dwarfed the unrest seen elsewhere on its route.

Events began according to plan, as five times gold medallist Steve
Redgrave started the torch’s 31 mile (50 km) journey through London at
Wembley at 10.30am. Over the ensuing eight hours about 80 British
athletes and celebrities were due to carry the torch by foot, bike, boat
and bus across the capital. The torch relay was to end at Greenwich in
the hands of Kelly Holmes, the runner who won two gold middle-distance
medals in the 2004 Games.

Police had been expecting up to 80,000 spectators to watch the relay.
Early on crowds were comparatively small, suggesting many had been
deterred by the heavy snow showers, but swelled during the day and
protests were more vigorous than expected.

Outside the British Museum in north London flour bombs were thrown as
officers struggled to restrain the demonstrators.

In Fleet Street, police reportedly had to take their first emergency
decision to abandon the torchbearer's route on foot and place the flame
on a bus travelling along a detour, when a group of 100 demonstrators
made a concerted attempt to seize the torch.

There were fears of violence as both pro- and anti-China activists
clashed in Trafalgar Square. Fu Ying, China’s ambassador to London,
managed nonetheless to run with the torch in nearby Chinatown, despite
rumours that she had pulled out for fear her presence would act as a
flashpoint for protesters.

At least a thousand protestors had gathered opposite Downing Street
where a sea of flags, banners and balloons could be seen, with chants
calling for a free Tibet sounding along the length of Whitehall.

Gordon Brown emerged from No 10 to greet the flame in front of a vetted
crowd behind the steel gates of Downing St. Amid chaotic scenes former
Olympic pentathlon champion Denise Lewis took the flame outside No 10
and ran gingerly along the road surrounded by police.

Several demonstrators attempted to run towards the torch, some trying to
jump the barriers which lined the pavement. Many were bundled to the
floor by police, who were out on foot, on bicycles, and mounted on
horseback. The crowd reacted noisily, booing and whistling and shouting
their protests.

Protesters and the media followed the torch towards Parliament Square as
police surrounded the bearer en masse.

England cricketer Kevin Pietersen was given the flame and headed towards
Westminster Bridge - walking rather than running because of the mayhem.
Camera crews, photographers, members of the public and outraged
protesters were bundled out of the way as police frantically tried to
clear a path and struggled to maintain control of the situation.

Later, the violinist Vanessa Mae was supposed to arrive at the Royal
Festival Hall on the South Bank by boat, but this part of the route too
was abandoned and instead she carried the torch in on foot for a
ceremony attended by Lord Coe, the London 2012 chairman.

Earlier, police officers scuffled with a small group of anti-China
protesters outside Wembley Stadium as the flame was carried on to a red
double-decker bus in front of flag-waving spectators. A number of
arrests were made after protesters tried to board the bus but there was
no disruption to the relay, the Metropolitan Police said.

Two activists were taken away by police after attempting to put out the
torch with fire extinguishers. Martin Wyness and Ashley Darby were
waiting with their equipment on the corner of Holland Park Avenue and
Ladbroke Grove. In a statement, the pair said the relay was a propaganda
campaign by China to cover its “appalling human rights record”.

“Like many people in the UK we feel that China has no right parading the
Olympic torch through London,” they said. “Our protest is not directed
at the Chinese people whatsoever but instead at the brutal Chinese
regime that rules them.”

Several British celebrities dropped out of the torch ceremony in a show
of unity with Tibetan independence activists or to take a stand against
China’s human rights record.

Earlier, campaigners and politicians called for Mr Brown to boycott the

“It is deeply sad that the Chinese through their brutality in Tibet have
contaminated the Olympic ideal,” said Norman Baker MP, president of the
Tibet Society, in a statement on the Free Tibet Campaign’s website.

Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, told the BBC: “It’s wholly
inappropriate that Gordon Brown is participating in this torch-bearing
ceremony today."

Mr Brown has said he will not boycott the Games and says that the Dalai
Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, has not called for a boycott.

Chinese security forces have locked down Tibet and neighbouring
provinces to quell anti-Chinese protests and riots that started in

Human rights groups say Chinese police have killed a number of
protesters. Foreign journalists cannot travel to the troubled regions to
verify the claims.

Protesters are particularly incensed that the torch will be carried
through Tibet by Chinese officials in June. The Free Tibet Campaign
accuses Beijing of using the torch for its own propaganda purposes.
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