On April 6 the Olympic torch was to be paraded through the streets of London in what Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell described as a celebration of the "Olympic spirit." Protesters angered by recent Chinese repression in Tibet sought to undermine this Chinese propaganda exercise. As it made its way through London, the flame was greeted by a wave of protest.
Demonstrators disrupted the torch's journey along the thirty one mile route. There were attempts to seize the torch, extinguish the flame and to prevent it making its way through the city with 37 people being arrested. Although Tibet was the main focus of protests, attention was also drawn to Chinese support for Sudanese atrocities in Darfur and Burma's brutal military dictatorship.
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The torch began its journey last week at Olympia in Greece and is to make its way through twenty countries before arriving in China in time for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on August 8. The torch had already been paraded through Almaty in Kazakhstan, Istanbul in Turkey and St. Petersburg in Russia and would go on to Paris immediately after London.
The London leg of the flame's world tour was in trouble almost immediately after it was begun by Olympic rower Steve Redgrave at 10.30am. As a schoolgirl Cheyenne Green boarded a bus at 10.35 a protester tried unsuccessfully to seize the torch. In the resulting clash, three people were arrested.
At 11.20, another protester attempted to grab the torch from former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq (an event captured on film). Although the protester got their hands on the torch, Huq was able to keep hold of it and her assailant was wrestled to the ground with two people being arrested.
At 11.30, two activists equipped with fire extinguishers attempted to the put the flame out. The men, both of whom were taken away by police (and presumably arrested) said in a statement that the relay is a propaganda campaign by China to cover its "appalling human rights record".
When the torch was passed onto tennis player Tim Henman he was greeted by a crowd chanting, "Shame on Henman." As a mixed crowd of more than 2,000 pro-Tibet and Chinese protesters gathered outside the British Museum there were a number of clashes. Police officers came under attack with flour bombs when they attempted to restrain an impromptu march. The risk of serious disorder appears to have caused a rethink on the part of the authorities and in an unpublicised change of route, the Chinese Ambassador to London, Fu Ying, carried the flame through Chinatown.
Former English ruby international Clive Woodward was confronted by three protesters before he had even begun his leg of the relay. However, it was at Trafalgar Square when some of the most violent scenes took place. As TV new presenter Trevor McDonald held the torch aloft there were clashes between large groups of protesters from the different sides and six people are detained.
At around 1.00 Olympic heptathalon champion Denise Lewis stood with PM Gordon Brown outside 10 Downing Street. At the same time huge crowds (reportedly numbering more than 1,000) were gathering alongside Whitehall outside Downing Street. A number of protesters scuffled with police as they managed to break out of cordons and rush the flame. Reports also indicate that the police manhandled a TV news crew, apparently not wanting to be outdone by their Chinese counterparts.
Later the torch was supposed to make the way along Fleet Street to St Paul's Cathedral by foot, but after it was surrounded by more than 100 protesters, organisers were forced to rethink and the flame made the journey by bus. Witnesses claim that during this journey the flame was extinguished.
At 3.30 the torch was carried across Tower Bridge by marathon runner Paula Radcliffe to a chorus of boos. Shortly after three protesters were arrested for rushing the flame. A further three arrests took place at Whitechapel as demonstrators ran at the torch from different directions. At 4.20 after police had rugby tackled four people within a few hundred metres of each other, organisers decided to cut the street parade short and former hurdler David Hemery was ushered on to a bus to be driven to Canary Wharf.
After visiting London, the torch was put on a Eurostar to Paris where it fared little better. Despite a massive police operation, large protests forced officials to extinguish the flame on a number of occasions and ultimately to cut the parade short. Further protests are expected in San Fransisco, New Delhi and elsewhere as the torch continues its 85,000 mile round world trip.