Agam's Gecko
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Tibet in Canberra
Tibetans and their supporters in Canberra, April 24, 2008.
Photo: AP / Renee Nowytarger

had a very nice wake-up this morning. Tuning in the AP satellite news feed, it was the live broadcast of the very last section of Canberra's torch relay. Australian swimming champion Ian Thorpe was carrying her sacredness up a cleared channel between masses of red flags, toward the canopy of its destination. He bounded onto the stage, raised the torch to cheers, and lit the large cauldron.

It immediately went out.

He looked pretty sheepish, not quite knowing what to do next, so he just started delivering his prepared speech, while the People's Liberation A rmy Sacred Flame Protection Unit relit the cauldron. Earlier in the run, one of the other relay runners, Elizabeth Patrick, had her torch run out of gas and go out. I recall that after Paris, Chinese authorities vigorously denied that the torch had been extinguished at all there, as though it would have been an unthinkable calamity (the PLASFPU boys had actually turned it off themselves, five times).

Eighty buses (many [all?] of them provided free by the Chinese embassy) packed with China supporters arrived in Canberra from Melbourne and Sydney, while a group of Tibetan monks came on foot after walking approximately 300 kilometres to protest the vile abuse of their country.

There were some confrontations between the Tibet and China supporters (who vastly outnumbered the former, of course), and a number of arrests were made -- most of them CCP Government of China patriots (this wording is so I won't be accused of being "anti-China"). Many reports describe aggressive physical attacks by the CCP Government of China patriots upon the Tibet rights supporters. Even Australian Federal Police had some tussles with the special Chinese forces in baby-blue tracksuits.
Several people were arrested on the sidelines while centre-stage Australian police and the Chinese escorts, clad in blue-and-white tracksuits, physically played out a long-running dispute over who was in charge of security.

On several occasions, police pulled one of the escorts back from alongside the runner carrying the torch, until they appeared to reach a compromise as the relay continued its 16-kilometre (10-mile) route, television footage showed...

Australian police said seven people had been taken into custody during the noisy protests -- five Chinese supporters and two pro-Tibet demonstrators -- but did not provide details on why they were detained.
Despite weeks of advance publicity from such groups as the Chinese Scholars and Students Association, who had vowed to bring 10,000 to Canberra and protect the little flame from "ethnic scum," officials sounded surprised.
"We didn't expect this reaction from the Chinese community, which is obviously a well coordinated plan to take the day by weight of numbers," [Canberra Olympic relay committee chairman Ted Quinlan] said.
People from Eastern Turkestan were also represented at the event.
Television footage showed dozens of China supporters facing off against a group carrying blue-colored flags representing the China's Muslim minority Uighurs. Minor scuffling broke out as officials sought to separate the two groups into different areas of the park. Police said two people were arrested.
According to Australia Broadcasting, a gang of CCP Government of China partisans assaulted people and tore down banners, while frightening the children.
Alastair Paterson says he and his seven-year-old daughter were standing on Limestone Avenue next to a small group which included a woman with a homemade banner saying 'Free Tibet'.

He says as the torch passed by a gang of people with Chinese flags and sticks ran past.

"One bloke lined me up and kicked me and as I turned around he ran away," he said.

"I took a step towards him and three or four others said 'Come on, Come on'. They wanted to fight me.

"The woman's husband got hit across the head with a stick. The woman got jostled. The banner got torn down and they basically ran off."

Mr Paterson says he told a policewoman standing in front of him what had happened.

"She said 'Oh, yeah, well we know what they're doing but we're giving good security' which is obviously not the case," he said.

"We walked a bit further down. There was a man there with two young boys about three and four years old with a small little flag saying 'Free Tibet.'

"They got jostled, his flag got torn off by this, basically the same gang running through."

One caller to ABC Radio in Canberra complained that pro-Chinese demonstrators have been overly aggressive in Commonwealth Park, where the torch relay finished.

"They're shouting slogans, we're scared, we have to leave because we're scared," one caller said.

"We can't go into a crowd like that with our grandchildren.

"Police say there's nothing they can do about it, they don't have enough police here to control the crowd, it's just totally out of control."
Monks with flags
Tibetan monks are jeered as they walk past pro-China supporters before the start of the Olympic torch relay in Canberra April 24, 2008.
Photo: REUTERS / Tim Wimborne
Mr. Paterson gave this account to the Sydney Morning Herald:
Alistair Paterson, 52, from Lake George outside Canberra, said he was standing with his seven-year-old daughter on Limestone Avenue with an older couple, their teenage son and two other young women when they were attacked by a group of about 50 people draped in Chinese flags.

Mr Paterson said he was holding a "Free Tibet" banner and the older couple also had a pro-Tibet placard, which angered the group as it ran along the crowd side of the barrier.

"I got a flying kick in the leg, another bloke was hit in the head with a stick with a Chinese flag attached to it and our banners were torn down," Mr Paterson said.

"When I looked around there were three or four guys who I can only assume were Chinese who wanted to fight me.

"This gang of thugs rolled right through us and we had kids with us. My daughter was still shaking an hour later and is very quiet even now.

"I don't normally get angry but I am so angry right now."
Who wouldn't be angry? Having people like this telling you what you can't do in your own country, your own city, or on your own street?
Another pro-Tibet protester, Marion Vecourcay, said she felt frightened and threatened by the Chinese demonstrators.

"They mobbed the sign, they were really aggressive, insulting and swearing," she said.

"They said we have no right to be here but I live up the street.

"It was just a mob mentality."
Australia Capital Territory spokesman Jeremy Lasek said, "The most important thing is the flame was never in danger." Well at least there's that, eh Jeremy? This flame needs more protection than Nicolas Sarkozy would need in Beijing right now.

It's cool how these kids bused in overnight from Australia's bigger cities, the majority of the aggressive ones most likely foreign exchange students, find it so easy to scream at others to "go home!" Imagine a Chinese kid shouting that to a Tibetan exile, who is just as likely to be living in Australia legally as a refugee. Screaming in support of the CCP Government of China's repressive policies in the Tibetan's homeland, the very thing that makes it impossible for him to go home.
Tsethar Tenzin told The Australian Online that he was assaulted by pro-China spectators.

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

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.
A mother of three who came with her children to support Tibet had to be extricated from a crowd.
"There were just so many of them, they were closing in, they were violent," her daughter Manon told The Australian Online.

Mrs Gunderson-Briggs said the clashes were frightening.

"They were pushing things in our faces, draping flags on us and yelling at us to go home," she said.

"They formed a circle of flags and stood around us screaming."
The tension between the groups escalated as the torch neared its finish. "Amid pushing and shoving between the groups, Chinese supporters struck pro-Tibet demonstrators with flags, witnesses said."
Police are urging Tibetans to keep moving as one group, with officers telling them they cannot protect their safety if they splinter off into smaller groups.
They cannot protect the people, but they can make sure the flame isn't in any danger.

An aircraft hired by Senator Bob Brown wrote "Free Tibet" in the sky above Parliament. One spectator was quoted saying that he was suprised by the lack of Australians among the celebrating side. "It's like playing spot the Aussie here," he said.

And so endeth the Canberra leg, which is reported to be a smashing success due to the fact that there were no serious injuries. On to Nagano!

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