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Olympic Torch Extinguished Briefly in Relay Marred by Protests

BY Admin  April 7, 2008 at 1:15 PM EDT

A protester in Paris; AP photo

Organizers eventually decided to cancel the final run of the Olympic relay through Paris after the chaotic protests.

At least two activists got within almost an arm’s length of the torch and one tried to throw water on the flame before he was grabbed by police, The Associated Press reported. Security officials had to twice extinguish the torch for “technical reasons” — and once put it on a bus — due to the raucous demonstrations.

A police source told Reuters that organizers were forced to put the torch on a bus to protect it from the hundreds of protesters who swarmed the relay route after the Eiffel Tower.

France’s former sports minister, Jean-Francois Lamour, said that though the relay torch had been put out, the Olympic flame itself still burned in the lantern where it is kept for safekeeping during the worldwide torch tour.

“The torch has been extinguished but the flame is still there,” he told France Info radio, according to the AP.

At the start of the Paris relay, a man identified as a Green Party activist was tackled by security officers as he headed for former Olympic champion Stephane Diagana, the president of France’s national athletics league, who was carrying the torch from the Eiffel Tower.

Diagana said he was disappointed to see the protests, though he understood why activists were there.

“Nothing is happening as planned. It’s unfortunate,” he told France 2 television, the AP reported.

At another point in the procession, the flame was being carried out of a Paris traffic tunnel by an athlete in a wheelchair when the relay was halted by activists who booed and chanted “Tibet.”

A massive security push to protect the torch in the French capital included the deployment of some 3,000 officers on motorcycles and jogging gear. Still, police struggled to stop a second rush at the torch, and the attempt to extinguish it with water, the AP and other media sources reported.

Other demonstrators managed to scale the Eiffel Tower and hang a banner depicting the Olympic rings as handcuffs. “Boycott Chinese goods” and “Save Tibet” read some of the banners held by the demonstrators, according to Reuters.

Pro-Chinese demonstrators carrying national flags held counter-protests in Paris.

“The Olympic Games are about sports. It’s not fair to turn them into politics,” Gao Yi, a Chinese second-year doctoral student in Paris, told the AP.

The torch relay also met protests in London a day earlier. In that city, one protester tried to grab the torch and another tried to snuff out the flame. Thirty-seven people were arrested.

Speaking in Beijing earlier, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge voiced concern over the protests and said that the IOC “called for a rapid, peaceful resolution of Tibet,” the BBC reported.

Rogge also said attempts to use violence to disrupt the torch relay are “not compatible with the values” of the Olympic Games.

The torch’s current round-the-world trip is the longest in Olympic history, and it is meant to shine a spotlight on China’s rise in economic and political power. Activists, however, have seized upon the procession as a backdrop for protests against China — and particularly its rule of Tibet — angering Beijing.

The torch trip is also is expected to face demonstrations in San Francisco, New Delhi and possibly elsewhere on its 21-country tour before arriving in mainland China May 4.