Chinese accused of punching pro-Tibet protesters during Canberra Olympic torch relay

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Melbourne, Apr.24 : Chinese supporters of the Beijing Olympics and the ongoing global torch relay have been accused of punching and assaulting pro-Tibet protesters during the torch relay in Australian capital Canberra.

Witnesses claimed that spectators behind the barricades were assaulted by pro-China gangs and had pro-Tibet flags ripped down during the relay.

Tsethar Tenzin told The Australian that pro- Chinese spectators assaulted him.

"They've been hitting us with their flags, we've been pushed and we've been punched," he said.

The Australian Online also witnessed running scuffles between pro-Tibet and Chinese groups in Canberra's north during the relay.

At least six protesters were arrested and Australian Federal Police (AFP) had to also jostle with Chinese flame attendants as they attempted to run with the flame.

At the end of the 16km route, retired Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe delivered the torch to Commonwealth Park and lit the community cauldron.

The cauldron went out almost immediately but the Chinese flame attendants moved in quickly to light it.

ACT government spokesman Jeremy Lasek said that despite the arrests, the "most important thing is the flame was never in danger, from start to finish, and that's an enormous credit to our federal police".

Earlier, police intervened after pro-China groups surrounded pro-Tibet protesters and yelled at them to "go home".

Up to 80 busloads of pro-China protesters arrived in Canberra to support the torch relay, with police confirming that thousands of people had lined the streets.

Television footage showed an AFP officer shunting a Chinese flame attendant off to the side after the official intervened to relight the Olympic flame. The incident was the first evidence that the Chinese may have exceeded their relay role.

The torch relay began about 8.50 a.m. and continued on its journey flanked by large numbers of tracksuit-clad Australian security officers.

The lead-up to today's relay was marked by confusion over the role of Chinese torch attendants _ labelled thugs by some overseas relay officials.

ANI

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