Jakarta torch relay is scaled down as Canberra puts up wall of steel

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The Independent Online

In the latest stage of the Olympic torch's fraught progress around the world, it has been paraded through a heavily guarded sports stadium in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, in front of 5,000 invited guests, mainly children.

The original plan was for the flame to be carried along a 15-mile route through the bustling city, but – at the request of the Chinese – it was restricted to five laps of the Bung Karno Stadium.

About 3,000 police and 1,000 soldiers were outside, while the carefully-selected guests cheered as an Indonesian Olympic athlete, Taufik Hidayat, lit a cauldron at the culmination of the relay. Eight pro-Tibet protesters, including a Dutch national, were arrested during a demonstration by about 100 people at the stadium. Police also seized pro-Tibet flags and banners.

The flame arrived at a military air base in Australia last night for the next leg of its relay. The torch was carried down the stairs of the plane in Canberra to the sound of Aboriginal instruments, before being handed to an indigenous leader.

"I welcome the Olympic torch to Australia in the spirit of peace on behalf of my people, whose history in this place goes back to the beginning of time," Agnes Shea, an Ngunnawal elder, said.

Australian officials will mount a major security operation in Canberra, where they have shortened the relay route, diverting it from the national parliament, and metal barricades have been erected to separate the torch-bearers from protesters, the public and most of the media.

The Australian leg of the relay is expected to attract hundreds of pro-Tibet demonstrators, as well as thousands of China supporters, who have reportedly been urged to turn out by Chinese officials.

Canberra's parade has already been hit by the withdrawal of a high-profile torch-bearer, Lin Hatfield Dodds, who is president of the Australian Council of Social Service. She said she was honoured to be chosen but was "very grieved to see violence come in to play between China and Tibet".

"I have felt that the meaning of the running in the torch relay has shifted," she added. "For a lot of people, it still carries the meaning of harmony but for an increasing number of the global community watching it is carrying a lot of meaning about human rights."

Ms Hatfield Dodds said she hoped her withdrawal "doesn't send any particular message to Australia's athletes... I hope it sends a message to the world that human rights matter".

* China has cancelled media access to the departure of the torch from Everest's North Base Camp before an attempt is made to take it to the top of the mountain next month.