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Page last updated at 02:21 GMT, Thursday, 24 April 2008 03:21 UK

Smooth run for Australia's relay

Police separate pro-Tibet protesters and China supporters

Canberra's Olympic torch relay has taken place relatively smoothly, despite fears of clashes between pro-Tibet and Chinese supporters.

More than 500 police were deployed along the route, and a steel fence sealed off parts of the city.

There were pockets of pro-Tibet protesters, but they were heavily outnumbered by thousands of Chinese who turned out to "protect the flame".

PM Kevin Rudd had warned of severe penalties for any violent protesters.

The BBC's Nick Bryant in Canberra says thousands of Chinese supporters - many of them Chinese students studying in Australia - lined the route, turning it into a sea of red Chinese flags.

In the early stages of the relay there were scuffles between the pro-Tibet protesters and China supporters, leading to the arrest of five people.

Police also arrested three protesters who ran out in front of the torch - though the relay was not disrupted.

Chinese guards removed

There was also wrangling between the jogging Australian police officers surrounding the flame and the Chinese security guards accompanying the torch.

Australia's government had been insistent that its officers would provide protection for the flame, not the phalanx of blue-suited Chinese guards who are travelling with the torch.

The Australian police officers repeatedly pulled the three Chinese guards trying to run with the torch away from their positions alongside the torchbearers.

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Despite the relative calm there were some protests

The torch relay began with an aboriginal welcome ceremony and aboriginal youth leader Tania Major was the first of 80 torchbearers carrying the flame on its 16 km (10 mile) journey around the Australian capital.

Organisers had shortened the route amid security fears and abandoned plans to run the flame past the Chinese embassy, fearing it could become a flashpoint for protests.

Pro-Tibetan campaigners held a candle-lit vigil outside the embassy ahead of the relay. They included five Tibetans who had walked 70km (43 miles) from a small town called Bungendore in rural New South Wales to Canberra to meet the torch.

In Sydney, Australia's most populous city, activists unfurled a banner on Wednesday over a billboard for Coca-Cola - an Olympic sponsor - urging China to open talks with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Police said they charged four people with trespassing and released them on bail.

Warning

About 500 police were on hand to guard the Canberra relay and crowd control barriers had been set up along the route.

Warning against violence ahead of the relay, Australia's prime minister, Mr Rudd said: "What I can say loud and clear, if any protester irrespective of their political point of view engages in unruly, disruptive, violent, unlawful behaviour then the police will come down on them like a tonne of bricks.

"Peaceful protest, yes - violent protest, under no circumstances."

The former Australian Olympic swimmer, Ian Thorpe, who was the last to carry the torch in the relay, said demonstrators should not be singling out the torch relay for protests.

"It should be something that's done consistently," he said.

Protests in Athens, London, Paris and San Francisco - where demonstrators angry at the Chinese occupation of Tibet tried to disrupt processions - have dominated media coverage of the torch relay.

However, the flame has made relatively peaceful progress through other cities, including Bangkok in Thailand and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.


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