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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Unmasked: Chinese guardians of Olympic torch

April 10, 2008

The guards protecting the Olympic flame had paramilitary training and
were chosen by Beijing for their toughness and fitness
Stephane Diagana runs with the Beijing Olympics flame

Jane Macartney in Beijing and Richard Ford
Times Online, UK
April 9, 2008

China’s blue-clad flame attendants, whose aggressive methods of
safeguarding the Olympic torch have provoked international outcry, are
paramilitary police from a force spun off from the country’s army.

The squad of 30 young men from the police academy that turns out the
cream of the paramilitary security force has the job at home of ensuring
riot control, domestic stability and the protection of diplomats.

Questions are now being asked as to who authorised their presence as the
torch was carried through London. The Conservatives demanded
clarification from the Government last night.

The guards’ task for the torch relay is to ensure the flame is never
extinguished – although it was put out three times in Paris – and now
increasingly to prevent protesters demonstrating against Chinese rule in
Tibet from interfering with it.

But the aggression with which the guards have been pursuing their brief
has provoked anger, not least in London where they were seen wrestling
protesters to the ground and were described as “thugs” by Lord Coe.

The Olympic medallist and organiser of the 2012 Games was overheard
saying that the officials had pushed him around as the torch made its
way through the capital on Sunday. He added that other countries on the
route should “get rid of those guys”.

“They tried to punch me out of the way three times. They are horrible.
They did not speak English . . . I think they were thugs.”

His comments came after Konnie Huq, the former Blue Peter presenter, who
was one of the torchbearers on Sunday, described how she had seen the
officials in “skirmishes” with the police.

Ms Huq, who was carrying the torch when a pro-Tibet activist tried to
snatch the flame, said of the guards: “They were very robotic, full-on .
. . They were barking orders like ‘run’ and ‘stop’ and I was like, ‘Who
are these people?’.”

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, wrote yesterday to Jacqui Smith,
the Home Secretary, seeking clarification of the role of the Chinese
officials. Mr Davis asked: “Who in the British Government authorised
their presence and what checks were made as to their background?”

He added: “They appear to have some role in providing security and were
seen manhandling protesters. They even accompanied the torch into
Downing Street and were highly visible in the picture with the Prime

The security men entered Britain on visitors’ visas but the Home Office
would not reveal whether they had disclosed on the application form for
whom they worked.

Less than a year ago these mysterious “men in blue” were elite students
from China’s Armed Police Academy and were selected amid great fanfare
to form the grandly titled Sacred Flame Protection Unit.

In China, tens of thousands of their paramilitary colleagues have been
deployed across Tibetan areas to restore order during riots, even
opening fire when the antiChinese demonstrations have threatened to run
out of control again.

It is a long way from those heady days last August when the squad was
founded. Zhao Si, their leader, said then: “These men, chosen from
around the country, are each tall and large and are eminently talented
and powerful.” Online reports said that the shortest of them was 6ft 3in.

Mr Zhao said: “Their outstanding physical quality is not in the
slightest inferior to that of specialised athletes.” Their training has
involved running 40 to 50 kilometres (25 to 31 miles) a day to ensure
the squad is fit enough to keep pace with a relay of torchbearers in
cities around the world.

They have also undergone training in local customs and languages of the
countries in which they would be deployed. This has included learning
some English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese.

A total of 30 men have been assigned to follow the torch overseas.
Another 40 will be on duty to trail the Olympic flame around China until
it reaches Beijing on August 6, just two days before the start of the Games.

In reports published before the young men became the focus of
international attention, Chinese media emphasised their ability to
ensure that the flame would stay alight. “They received firstly
technical training in how to light the first torch of each session of
the relay and save the flame in the lantern at the end of each relay in
a more efficient and safe way.”

Yang Zhaoke, director of the Beijing organising committee torch centre,
told The Times: “We chose young and vigorous men. They can’t be
beansprouts because they have to show good endurance. We can’t change
people once they are overseas. They have to be able to run from start to

Some train in such martial arts as taekwondo or tijiquan in their spare
time, he said, but added: “Their job is not to fight but to shelter and
protect. They are not there to beat people and they have no right to
enforce the law. Only the British police have that right in London, for

A source at Scotland Yard said: “They were here because they came as a
part of the package. We made it quite clear that they had no executive
powers in Britain.

“They were here to maintain the flame. Their responsibility is to look
after the flame and to make sure nothing happens to it. They are there
to protect the flame.”

Timetable of protest

Planned torch relay route


9 San Francisco
11 Buenos Aires
13 Dar es Salaam
14 Muscat
16 Islamabad
17 Delhi
19 Bangkok
21 Kuala Lumpur
22 Jakarta
24 Canberra
26 Nagano
27 Seoul
28 Pyongyang
29 Ho Chi Minh City

2 Hong Kong
3 Macao
4 Begins tour of China

Early to mid-May

Everest (date determined by weather)


6-8 Arrives in Beijing

Source: Beijing 2008
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