Police and security around the bus where the torch was placed in Paris on Monday. (IHT/Reuters)
The Olympic torch had to be placed on a bus for security reasons during its procession across Paris Monday, amid rowdy protests by pro-Tibet activists.
“Pro-Tibet demonstrators have been coming out and shouting ‘Free Tibet,’” says France 24’s Nicolas Germain who is following the relay. “The procession is being halted regularly, with demonstrators lying down in the street and police coming to remove them.”
See video of protesters clashing with police on France 24. The text continues:
Germain also reported seeing scuffles between the police and protesters. Police arrested four people, including two pro-Tibet protesters, for trying to hinder the progress of the torch, according to AFP.
Police said the flame was extinguished for ‘technical reasons’.
Moments after the relay kicked off at the Eiffel Tower, Sylvain Garel, a Paris city councillor from the Green Party, tried to grab the torch from former world 400-meters hurdles champion Stephane Diagana, shouting, “Free Tibet, Chinese troops out of Tibet.” He was pulled aside before he could reach the torch.
The torch relay got under way but was quickly blocked by protesters near the Eiffel Tower, said Germain. At least twice, authorities loaded the torch onto a bus to avoid further delays.
On the Eiffel Tower itself, activists succeeded in hanging a 4-metre-wide black flag from the lower platform. The flag featured handcuffs in place of the Olympic rings.
The French authorities were taking extensive measures to protect the Olympic torch from protesters as it makes its way through Paris on Monday on the last leg of its European tour.
Thousands of security personnel had been mobilized – in helicopters, on horseback and on foot – in an effort to avoid the kind of scenes seen in London on Sunday, when protesters repeatedly tried to extinguish the torch.
The torch was to be carried by 80 runners in relay on a 28 kilometer route through the French capital from the Eiffel Tower to the Charlety stadium in southern Paris. As it is carried along the banks of the Seine, the flame will be flanked by 100 police on roller blades and 100 jogging firemen, as well as police motorcyclists and 16 security vehicles.
“All those who wish to express themselves can express themselves,” French Sports Junior Minister Bernard Laporte told reporters. “But I don’t want there to be any incidents surrounding the torch, because that would be lack of respect for the values it represents”.