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Paris protesters claim Olympics win

By Chris Mason
BBC News, Paris

Activists in Paris, determined to disrupt the Olympic torch relay through the French capital, had defiant words.

Protester Asr Srwut in Paris - 7/4/2008
Asr Srwut wanted the protests to grab headlines, not the torch relay

"I've travelled here from Holland today. This can make a difference," Asr Srwut, 38, says next to the Arc de Triomphe.

Mr Srwut is originally from Xinjiang in western China, home to the country's Muslim Uigher ethnic minority.

Some from that province want to break away from Beijing - and Asr says as a result people there are abused by the Chinese authorities.

"I've always been against giving the Olympic Games to China," he tells me.

"They simply don't deserve it. But what's happened recently in Tibet really does prove they're not fit to be the hosts."

Running late

Asr Srwut was just one of hundreds of demonstrators here, determined and dogged in their desire to make sure their protests grabbed the headlines, and not the Olympic relay itself.

In that aim, they succeeded.

Security officials were forced to extinguish the flame on several occasions as chaotic protests against Chinese policies on human rights turned the relay into a jarring series of stops and starts.

As I waited with a handful of protesters at the Arc de Triomphe, who were planning to join the main demonstration when the torch relay arrived, there were bemused looks - and frequent glances at watches.

Metres away were more than 10 police vans. Officers, with riot gear, were receiving instructions from their commanders.

A protester gets close to an Olympic torch relay runner in Paris - 7/4/2008
Some of the protesters got very close to the torch runners

"Where is the relay?" one protester asked me. The answer - it is late. Very late.

As we talk, a fellow protester is arrested and bundled into the back of a police car.

It is not clear exactly what he has done wrong - the torch is still not even in sight.

In fact, three hours after the start, the torch had covered less than half of what was supposed to be a four-and-a-half hour route.

So, for the authorities, it was time for Plan B.

Another city, another protest

Firstly, we heard that the ceremony planned at the Hotel de Ville (city hall) to mark the passing of the Olympic flame had been cancelled.

And then came news, with the Parisian rush hour perhaps just 30 minutes away, that the remainder of the torch procession had also been called off.

Instead of being carried through the streets of the French capital on foot by dignitaries and Olympic athletes, the final leg of the journey was a little less glamorous.

The torch was loaded onto a bus and escorted to the headquarters of the French Olympic Committee.

Pro-Tibet protesters in Paris - 7/4/2008
Protesters were determined to highlight China's human rights record
"It's good news. We've irritated them and we've won," Asr Srwut tells me.

"I came here today after I saw the demonstrations in London on the television. I thought, 'I know it's a long way, but I've got to go to Paris.' So I came along - and it was definitely worth it," he adds, his face lighting up.

This has hardly been a "journey of harmony" for the Olympic flame, as it was billed. It has been to two European capitals in two days - and there have been two major protests.

And the next stop for the torch?

San Francisco.

And yes, more protests are planned there too.


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