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Page last updated at 18:12 GMT, Monday, 7 April 2008 19:12 UK

Protests cut short Olympic relay

French police and protesters scuffle in Paris - 7/4/2008
Hundreds of protesters were on the streets of Paris

The Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay has been cut short following anti-Chinese protests along the route.

Security officials extinguished the torch at least three times due to the protests before it was carried on a bus to the relay's end point.

It comes after 37 people were arrested in London as protesters disrupted the torch relay there on Sunday.

The Olympic flame is being carried through 20 countries before arriving for the Beijing Games in August.

Flame protected

The Paris relay started to go wrong almost from the start, despite the presence of 3,000 police along the route, riding motorcycles, jogging or on skates.

A member of the French Green party was restrained by police after attempting to grab the torch from the first of Paris's 80 torch bearers, former world 400 metres hurdles champion Stephane Diagana, Reuters news agency said.

"Nothing's happening as it was meant to," Mr Diagana told French TV.

"It's a shame. It's sad because of what this symbol represents but it can be explained by the context we're aware of."

Police were forced at least three times to put out the torch and carried it onto a bus, as police cleared protesters from the route.

On the second occasion, the flame was being relayed out of a Paris traffic tunnel by an athlete in a wheelchair when it was taken onto a bus because protesters booed and began chanting "Tibet", the Associated Press news agency reported.

The flame itself has been kept alight the whole time in a safety lantern.

The International Olympic Committee has expressed its serious concern and calls for a rapid peaceful resolution in Tibet
Jacques Rogge, IOC President

Later, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe cancelled a ceremony to welcome the torch relay after Green party activists hung a Tibetan flag and a black banner depicting the Olympic rings as handcuffs from the Hotel de Ville (city hall).

Activists have hung Tibetan flags or the black banners from several other Paris landmarks including the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame cathedral.

Several hundred protesters have been involved in the demonstrations, near the Eiffel Tower and along the torch's zig-zag route through Paris to a stadium in the south of the city.

Finally, after several delays, security officials decided to put the torch on a bus to take it to Stade Charlety, where it arrived 30 minutes late at 1530 GMT.

Pro-Tibet activists and Chinese supporters scuffled outside the stadium before police intervened.

Olympic appeal

China condemned what it called an "attempt to sabotage and destroy" the torch relay.

"The Olympic flame belongs to the people around the world," said Wang Hui, a spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organising committee.

"So the behaviour of a few separatists would not gain sympathy from people and will cause strong criticism and is doomed to fail."

A Tibet protester tries to block the Olympic torch relay in London 6/4/08
China has expressed disgust at the torch protests in London

The Paris relay was meant to be a colourful advertisement for the Beijing Games, instead it has turned into a grotesque embarrassment, says the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris.

US Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called on President George W Bush to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics unless China improved its human rights record.

Speaking in Beijing earlier on Monday, IOC President Jacques Rogge said he was concerned over both the recent unrest in Tibet and the torch protests.

"The International Olympic Committee has expressed its serious concern and calls for a rapid peaceful resolution in Tibet," Mr Rogge said.

He criticised the attempts to disrupt the torch relay, saying violent protests, "for whatever reason," are "not compatible with the values of the torch relay or the Olympic Games".

London's relay saw protesters trying to douse and even snatch the Olympic flame as athletes and celebrities carried it through the city.

The demonstrations have been sparked by China's security crackdown in Tibet following a series of protests against Chinese rule which swept the region last month.

Tibetan exile groups say Chinese security forces killed dozens of protesters. Beijing says about 19 people were killed in rioting.

The torch was lit in Olympia, Greece, on 24 March and is being relayed through 20 countries before being carried into the opening ceremony at the Beijing Games on 8 August.

Map showing route of torch




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