(by Kevin McCandless, April 7, 2008, CNSNews.com) London – The bitter dispute over Tibet came to London on Sunday as opponents of Chinese policies battled in the streets with police over the running of the Olympic torch.
Originally envisaged as a feel-good event in the lead-up to Olympic Games in Beijing this summer, the 31-mile run through London — which will host the 2012 games — descended into chaos as crowds lined the sidewalks to demonstrate against the Chinese government and its occupation of Tibet.
The round-the-globe torch relay is providing a handy lightning-rod for people protesting the Chinese government for a range of reasons, but Tibet has taken center stage since the mid-March clampdown there on anti-China unrest.
Braving unseasonably cold weather, including some snow flurries, Britons and Tibetan activists chanted, waved signs and flags and booed the various runners as they made their way to the site of the 2012 Olympics in the east of the capital.
For much of the day, the torch itself was barely visible, with sometimes only a flickering, smoky flame peeking out above the heads of the Chinese security guards and British policemen jogging in a tight pack around it.
Runners were also protected by an outer escort of more officers on bikes and motorcycles, as repeated attempts were made to grab the torch or to douse its flame, starting almost as soon as it left Wembley Stadium in northwest London.
Most demonstrators who broke through the security barriers were immediately tackled and hauled away, although two men reportedly attempted to use a fire extinguisher at various places along the route, and another temporarily tore it from the hands of one of the runners, the former presenter of a children’s TV show.
More than 2,000 police were deployed to protect the torch and a police spokeswoman said on Sunday night that at least 36 arrests had been made.
While most runners were professional athletes and a succession of minor celebrities, Fu Ying, the Chinese ambassador to Britain, carried the torch through London’s Chinatown, where according to media reports she enjoyed a warm reception from the enclave of Chinese immigrants.
The torch also stopped briefly at 10 Downing Street, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown emerged for a few minutes to greet it.
Brown, who has come under criticism from members of his own party for being “mild” on China, plans to meet in May with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of Tibetans worldwide, and a man reviled by the Beijing government.
Brown said last week he has no plans to boycott the opening of the games — as some European leaders are planning or considering doing — because, the prime minister said, the Dalai Lama was not in favor of the gesture.
London resident Girish Bhagat, a protester across the street from Downing Street, said that he and his brother had decided to take part in their first public protest ever because they were disgusted with the Chinese government.
“We’re absolutely in favor of what the Olympics stands for, but to have China host it?” he said.
Dalha Tsering, a campaign coordinator for the Tibetan Community in Britain, a non-profit trust, said Sunday night he thought that the protests had spoken “loud and clear” to the Chinese government.
“Our protest was not against the Olympics and the spirit of the Olympics,” he said. “It was against what China was doing in Tibet.”
In contrast to the protestors, sizeable groups of Chinese students came out to publicly support the Olympic run. At times, police were compelled to keep the two groups apart.
Student Cherie Liang echoed many of her friends when she said that media coverage had distorted the situation in Tibet and that most westerners had no real idea what was going on there.
“China is very big,” she said. “It’s just one little problem and they want to use it against our country.”
After London the torch relay, which began in Greece in late March, was scheduled to continue in Paris before heading for San Francisco, its only North American stop. Further protests are expected in both cities.
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1. Who was protesting the running of the Olympic torch in London this weekend?
2. How did protesters demonstrate their opposition to the Chinese government?
3. Who was guarding the torch bearers as they ran the 31-mile route through London?
4. Through which area of London did the torch bearer receive a favorable reception?
5. Dalha Tsering, a campaign coordinator for the Tibetan Community in Britain, thought that the protests had spoken “loud and clear” to the Chinese government. “Our protest was not against the Olympics and the spirit of the Olympics,” he said. “It was against what China was doing in Tibet.”
a) Do you support the protesters who chanted, waved signes and flags and booed the runners carrying the torch? Explain your answer.
b) Do you support the protesters who attempted to put out the flame with a fire extinguisher, or who grabbed the torch from one of the runners hands? Explain your answer.
NOTE: Pro-Tibet activists today disrupted the Paris relay of the Beijing Olympic torch, clashing with police and three times forcing torchbearers to extinguish the flame and take refuge on a bus.
Click here for a previous article “Tibetan-Americans Urge US boycott of Olympics Opening Ceremony” Scroll to the bottom of the questions page for background information on Tibet and China.
Watch video of the protests here.
Read about the history of the Olympic Torch relay here.