Rod McGuirk, AP, April 24, 2008
China’s red flag was seemingly everywhere on the Australian leg of the Olympic torch relay, a nationalistic display that swamped protesters’ efforts to draw attention to human rights issues in Tibet and elsewhere.
Critics said the demonstration of Chinese pride was orchestrated by officials linked with Beijing, which has been profoundly embarrassed by protests during what was supposed to be a parade of global harmony ending at the Olympics.
China denied any involvement in sponsoring supporters.
Australian officials celebrated the relative peace of Thursday’s 10- mile run through the capital as a triumph—at least compared to other places where the torch was almost seized by protesters or security measures were so strict that the event appeared more military than celebratory.
The Australia leg began as a half-dozen police in jogging pants, T- shirts and baseball caps formed a cordon around the torchbearer while other police manned crowd-control barriers.
An airplane skywriter spelled out “Free Tibet” overhead and police hauled away one man who sat down for a split second in the path of a torch runner.
In one of several tense scenes away from the relay, a group of pro- Chinese tried to use their flags to cover “Free Tibet” signs carried by protesters. The two groups yelled at each other until police intervened.
Thousands of Chinese supporters traveled from Sydney and Melbourne for the relay. City officials estimated there were about 10,000 pro- Chinese, outnumbering protesters 4-1.
Pro-Tibet protester Thanh Tan Huynh alleged Chinese government officials had paid expenses for ethnic Chinese to travel to Canberra.
Stanhope said it was evident that “some central organization” was behind all the China supporters and that he believed the Chinese ambassador had been in contact with Chinese community groups.
A Chinese Embassy official who refused to give his name told The Associated Press the government had not been involved in sponsoring any relay supporters. In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu sidestepped a question on the issue, instead questioning whether “disruptive elements” were asked if they received outside help.
Chinese newspapers reported that 3,000 Chinese flags collected through an Internet donation drive had been shipped to Canberra.