Page last updated at 16:51 GMT, Sunday, 6 April 2008 17:51 UK

Torch carries Tibet debate to UK

By Jon Kelly
BBC News

Denise Lewis carries the Olympic torch into Downing Street
Protesters watched as Denise Lewis carried the torch into Downing Street

With colourfully-dressed groups of rival supporters waving flags and chanting slogans, it had all the ingredients of a major sporting event.

But athletics became juxtaposed with politics as the Olympic torch made its way through the streets of London en route to the controversial Beijing 2008 games.

Protesters opposed to China's human rights record and presence in Tibet made sure that attention was focused on more than just sporting endeavour.

Like any stadium crowd, they chanted and sang - but their slogans included "Shame on you, China," and "Stop the killing in Tibet."

They were confronted by crowds of pro-Chinese government demonstrators determined to dispel what they described as lies about their country propagated by the western media.

It would be no good surrounding the torch with a twelve-foot high wall, would it? No-one would enjoy that
Cmdr Jo Kaye
Scotland Yard

The incongruous April snowfall might have meant the day at times resembled the Winter Olympics more than springtime in London.

Teams of police and stewards ringing the torchbearers to prevent the flame being blown out - around 2,000 officers were mobilised to maintain order along the 31-mile route.

Cmdr Jo Kaye of Scotland Yard said the force faced a difficult task.

"It would be no good surrounding the torch with a twelve-foot high wall, would it? No-one would enjoy that," he said.

"We've got to allow people to see it."

And though there were arrests and regular grapples between protesters and police, the most serious attempt to disrupt the event - by snatching the torch from former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq - was foiled.

Ms Huq - who had publicly wavered over whether to take part - looked shaken as she recounted the incident to the BBC.

"I was completely oblivious at first, and before I knew what was happening this guy had lurched towards me.

Phuntbok Dalu
The blood of Tibet is smeared all over these games
Phuntbok Dalu

"It was quite a violent little tussle, but I guess he wanted his opinions to be known."

Further scuffles followed the flame all the way as protesters tried to breach police lines.

But even when 2,000 demonstrators from both sides faced each other outside the British Library in Bloomsbury, most concentrated on chanting rather than physically confronting their opponents.

One demonstrator who was determined to make his voice heard was Phuntbok Dalu, 33, from Enfield, Middlesex.

Born to Tibetan parents in India, he insisted it was impossible to disentangle Chinese government policy from the event.

"People say that sport and politics shouldn't mix," he said.

"But when the blood of Tibet is smeared all over these games, I don't see how you can make that argument."

Not all had a personal stake in the dispute, however.

Claudie Whitaker, 44, from Groombridge in Kent took part along with daughter Elizabeth Nicholls, 17, after seeing TV footage of recent protests in Tibet.

"I'm marching today because the people of Tibet aren't allowed to do so for themselves," Claudie said.

"I've never been on a demonstration before, but I felt I had do something positive."

The western media hasn't been telling the truth
Emma Ha
Pro-Beijing demonstrator

Tibet's government-in-exile said on Tuesday that it could confirm 140 people had died in recent violence. China has reported 19 deaths.

However, the pro-Beijing contingent along the route - although less noisy - were equally insistent that their side was the victim of injustice.

"The western media hasn't been telling the truth," said Emma Ha, 34, from London.

"It was Tibetans who attacked Chinese the other week, not the other way round."

A fellow Chinese expat in the UK capital, Paul Zhou, 50, added: "These protesters say they want freedom for Tibet.

"But if the Dalai Lama was in charge, Tibet would be even less free than it is now. I support Beijing."

The Free Tibet contingent will argue that it has led the debate about Beijing's policies right into the heart of London.

1: Wembley 1030BST
2: Ladbroke Grove 1100
3: British Museum 1220
4: China Town 1230
5: Trafalgar Square 1250
6: Southbank Centre 1330
7: Somerset House 1415
8: St Paul's Cathedral 1430
9: Potter's Fields 1500
10: Whitechapel Road 1530
11: Stratford 1600
12: Canary Wharf 1700
13: North Greenwich 1800
Source: Mayor of London

Redgrave receives pleas on Tibet
03 Apr 08 |  Olympics
Jail for Chinese rights activist
03 Apr 08 |  Asia-Pacific


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific