NPR logo Paris Olympic Torch Relay Cut Short by Protests


Paris Olympic Torch Relay Cut Short by Protests

French former tennis player (center) Arnaud Di Pasquale reacts as he carries an extinguished Beijing Olympics flame in Paris on his way to place the torch in a bus for safety amid pro-Tibet protests. hide caption

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Police in the French capital said Monday that the last part of the Olympic torch relay in the city had been cancelled after they were forced to douse the symbolic flame several times and carry it in a bus to avoid anti-China protesters.

The announcement followed a day in which the police were forced to play a game of cat-and-mouse with protesters in an effort to keep them at bay as the relay took place.

Security officials in Paris extinguished the Olympic torch five separate times on Monday, frequently hustling it aboard a bus to protect it from protesters.

Despite massive security, at least two activists got within almost an arm's length of the flame before they were grabbed by police. Officers tackled many protesters and carried off some of them. A protester threw water at the torch but failed to extinguish it and was also taken away.

France's former sports minister, Jean-Francois Lamour, stressed that, though the torch was put out aboard the bus, the Olympic flame itself still burned in the lantern where it is kept overnight and on airplane flights.

"The torch has been extinguished, but the flame is still there," Lamour told France Info radio.

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The torch, en route to the Beijing games, has been the focus of intense protests in Europe over China's recent crackdown in Tibet. Over the weekend, the relay ferrying the Olympic symbol to Beijing encountered similar protests in London.

At the start of the relay in Paris, a man identified as a Green Party activist was grabbed by security officers as he headed for 1997 400-meter world champion Stephane Diagana, the president of France's national athletics league, who was carrying the torch from the first floor of the Eiffel Tower.

The procession continued but, soon after, a crowd of activists waving Tibetan flags interrupted it by confronting the torchbearer. The flame was put out by security officers and brought aboard a bus to continue along the route.

Less than an hour later, the flame was being carried out of a Paris traffic tunnel by an athlete in a wheelchair when the procession was halted by anti-China activists. The torch was again put out and placed aboard a bus.

The procession, guarded by about 3,000 police — riding motorcycles, jogging or traveling on skates — was interrupted two other times.

In London on Sunday, police repeatedly scuffled with protesters. One tried to grab the torch, while another tried to snuff out the flame with what appeared to be a fire extinguisher. Thirty-seven people were arrested.

From NPR staff and wire reports.