Scuffles break out near Australian leg of torch relay

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{image-olympic torch_24042008.jpg www.oneindia.com}Melbourne, Apr 24 : Australian police jostled with Chinese flame attendants and wrestled pro-Tibet protesters to the ground as the Olympic torch made its way through Canberra on Thursday.

The relay has now ended, with former Olympian Ian Thorpe lighting a cauldron in Commonwealth Park, which quickly went out and had to be relit by Chinese attendants. According to news.com.au, pro-China demonstrators turned out in force in what relay organisers have said was a co-ordinated attempt to "carry the day". A sea of red flags emerged when the Chinese anthem was sung to officially end the relay ceremony.A rival group of pro-Tibet demonstrators hurled abuse and taunts at each other throughout the entire relay after police forced them onto separate parts of the route. Scuffles broke out and a Chinese flag was burned.

The ACT government said there had been six arrests. An Australian Olympic spokesman praised the large numbers of pro-Chinese demonstrators for turning up.
Tensions were also evident between federal police and the blue track-suited Chinese flame attendants, who were repeatedly pulled away from the flame.

On Wednesday, a final press conference descended into farce when Australian and Chinese officials argued over exactly what the Chinese guards - reportedly part of China's paramilitary police force, would be permitted to do.

Despite the scuffles and abuse, the relay was largely free of the level of violence that plagued the run through the streets of Paris, London and San Francisco. Torch carriers were given a mostly free path as they ran.

Flanked by police, two flame attendants and a media pack, Tania Major, the 2007 Young Australian of the Year, was the first runner to take the flame as the relay began this morning.

She took it to the edge of Canberra's Lake Burley Griffin where the Australian Women's Rowing Eights team took the flame across the water.

As the flame approached Parliament House a pro-Tibet protester ran out into the middle of the road and sat down before being wrestled to the ground and dragged away by police.

Another man carrying a Chinese flag was arrested after he tried to disrupt traffic on Commonwealth Bridge. He too was wrestled to the ground after he allegedly resisted arrest.

Near the Australian War Memorial, three protesters jumped the barricades and carried Free Tibet signs down the centre of Anzac Parade - a road flanked with memorials to Australia's war dead.

About 50 pro-China demonstrators followed them and tried to cover the Tibetans and their signs with large, red Chinese flags.

Pandemonium broke out as the two groups yelled at each other until police intervened and ordered everyone behind the barricades.

Near the end of the relay, the groups clashed again.

Before the torch arrived, Olympic organisers told the crowd of thousands the relay would not go ahead unless protesters and supporters separated themselves into two groups.

The rival groups continued to surge towards each other waving flags and shouting slogans into loudspeakers. At least one man was arrested during the scuffles.

Pro-Tibet supporters burned a Chinese flag as the torch was welcomed to Canberra with an indigenous smoking ceremony . The leader of the group of demonstrators was immediately arrested and taken away from the scene by police.

Reconciliation Place on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin was packed with noisy pro-China spectators well before dawn.

Olympic relay committee chairman Ted Quinlan told ABC Radio the presence of large numbers of pro-China visitors appeared to be a well-organised move to carry the day by sheer weight of numbers.

He admitted the number of China supporters had come as a surprise to organisers.

Olympic Committee representative Kevan Gosper said the Canberra leg of the torch relay had "not gone as smoothly as expected". But while there had been some tension, the general mood of the morning was still peaceful.

Former Olympian Rob de Castella said the torch had inflamed passions, but it was important for it to carry on. "While it's caused a few problems, we need these things more so than ever before."

ANI

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