Tibet demonstrators disrupt Olympic Torch relay

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Thousands of human rights protesters today disrupted the Olympic Torch Relay through London, billed as a journey of harmony and peace.

Scuffles broke out as the organised units of campaigners broke through the police and security cordons in a bid to snatch or even extinguish the flame.

Flashpoints in the difficult 31-mile journey from Wembley Stadium to Greenwich included Downing Street and the British Museum.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown greeted the torch behind Downing Street's closed steel gates in front of a vetted crowd as protesters scuffled with police outside and Beijing supporters waved Chinese flags and banged drums.

Campaigners are protesting against China's crackdown on pro-independence activists in Tibet and its human rights record. Falun Gong and the Burma Campaign are also demonstrating.

Instead of a smooth free-flowing journey by foot, open-topped bus, boat and bicycle, many of the 80 torchbearers were stopped on several occasions and encircled by Chinese torch officials and uniformed police officers protecting the flame from swooping protesters.

Two people were arrested in one of the most frightening incidents of the day when a protester surged on former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq as she ran with the torch in north west London.





Ms Huq told Sky News: "There was a bit of a skirmish with a protester but the flame stayed alight.

"I expected there to be protests but I was not expecting to be wrestled by people. I think that people feel very strongly about China and human rights but I guess that I am very lucky to be living in a country where people can have an opinion.

"I nearly lost my footing in the scramble but I kept going. I was aware when someone was lurching towards me and tried to grab it."

Two activists were taken away by police after attempting to put out the torch with fire extinguishers.

Martin Wyness and Ashley Darby were waiting with their equipment on the corner of Holland Park Avenue and Ladbroke Grove.

In a statement, the pair said the relay was a propaganda campaign by China to cover its "appalling human rights record".

"Like many people in the UK we feel that China has no right parading the Olympic torch through London," they said.

"Our protest is not directed at the Chinese people whatsoever but instead at the brutal Chinese regime that rules them."

Violinist Vanessa Mae was supposed to arrive by boat at the Royal Festival Hall - she did not. A welcome guard was ready and waiting but was never used.

Instead the crowd saw her appear there with the torch at a ceremony with Lord Coe, the London 2012 chairman.

Around 100 demonstrators tried to surround the torch and torch bearer in Fleet Street junction with Fetter Lane at about 2.39pm, according to Scotland Yard.

A spokesman said: "The decision was taken to place the torch and bearer back onto the bus and complete that stage on the vehicle, as per pre-determined police tactics. The route has not been altered."

By 3pm, 35 arrests had been made for a range of public order offences.

A heavy police presence was thrown over two large groups of protesters who had amassed at potential flashpoints of Downing Street and the British Museum.

About 500 gathered at Downing Street where former Olympic heptathlon champion Denise Lewis gingerly took the flame surrounded by police.

Several demonstrators attempted to run towards the torch, some trying to jump the barriers which lined the pavement.

Many were bundled to the floor by police, who were out on foot, on bicycles, and mounted on horseback.

The crowd reacted noisily, booing and whistling and shouting their protests.

Another 2,000 amassed at the British Museum where it was thought that Fu Ying, the Chinese Ambassador to London, would hand the flame on to Sir Clive Woodward.

She did not but appear there but at Chinatown where there was a warm and colourful welcome.

A Chinese Embassy spokesman said: "She took part. It was very successful, that is all I will say."

Amid snowfall at Wembley Stadium Britain's greatest Olympian, the five-times rowing champion Sir Steve Redgrave, took the first leg of the relay. He handed the flame to 16-year-old schoolgirl Cheyenne Green.

Tory leader David Cameron acknowledged many people were "very unhappy" about what was happening in Tibet, but he rejected calls for a boycott.

"I don't think we are at the stage yet where we should be considering a boycott," he told Sky's Sunday Live.

"I think having a policy of robust engagement with China is right."

Around 2,000 Metropolitan Police - including airborne, mounted and river units - were mobilised for the eight-hour event.

A mobile protective ring remained around the torch, including a team of police cyclists in a convoy of security, VIP and media vehicles.

Sports stars and celebrities are among torch bearers in the relay which is costing the Greater London Authority more than £40,000 to stage. Colourful and loud mini-carnivals were held along the route.

But campaigners, who say China has tainted the torch with its human rights record both at home and away, held protests along the route.

Pro-Tibet supporters waved banners and placards calling for Mr Brown to boycott the opening ceremony, for an end to killing in Tibet and for China to have talks with the Dalai Lama.

Hundreds lined Bayswater Road, many wearing Tibetan flags and carrying signs which read "Stop the killing in Tibet", "No Olympic torch in Tibet" and "China talk to Dalai Lama".

Helping to lead the chants was Buddhist monk Ngawang Khyentse, who said: "We can't just remain silent. We have no other choice than to protest because there is no other voice for Tibetans inside Tibet, so we have to speak out for human rights.

"At the very least the British government has to speak out and condemn the crackdown in Tibet. They must not keep silent."

When the bus travelled along Oxford Street, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell stopped it in its tracks by jumping into the road holding a sign saying "Free Tibet, Free Hu Jia".

The Olympic torch has been a magnet for human rights protesters since it was lit in Greece last week.

Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell insisted that it would have been a "great mistake" not to have gone ahead with the relay.

She told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend: "I hope that the message that will go round the world is that, yes, there are many citizens of the UK who feel very strongly about China's human rights record, there are people in the UK who feel very strongly about the importance of dialogue with the Dalai Lama, and that in the UK we cherish the right to lawful and peaceful protest which, by and large, is what we have seen today."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Sport
footballLive blog: Follow the action from the Capital One Cup semi-final
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough, Cam...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century