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Chinese Protesters Extinguish the Olympic Torch at Home

May 11, 2008

Unknown protesters in Shenzhen attack Olympic runners and extinguish the flame
Our Correspondent  
Asia Sentinel
May 8, 2008

In a stunning blow to China’s prestige, two local protesters shocked hundreds of cheering bystanders when they unexpectedly extinguished the Olympic Torch today near the Window of the World, a theme park in the Shenzhen industrial zone near Hong Kong.

The protesters’ motives were unknown. As the unsuspecting crowd cheered Beijing’s Olympic success, an eyewitness heard one of the two men, both of them Chinese, say “mission accomplished” after the torch was put out. Chinese television, which was filming the progress of the torch, hurriedly cut away. Television presenters said the transmission was having technical problems. However, the eyewitness was able to film the disturbance and made it available to Asia Sentinel.  The film is being prepared for publication and was to be put on the site later today.

It is unknown what happened to the two protesters, who appeared to be common laborers. Some of the bystanders ended up with blood on their faces, the eyewitness said. It took about an hour of confusion, with the torchbearer being escorted to a military van, before it could be relit and start the procession again.

The Chinese could be excused for thinking with a sigh of relief that they were home free. The torch, traveling across the world to open the Olympic Games in July, has become a lightning rod both to enthusiastic Chinese citizens and to protesters who have attempted to pull it away from runners in cities from Paris to Seoul. Many in Asia itself have come to regard the torch processions as a manifestation of Chinese triumphalism rather than a symbol of the international brotherhood of sport. A rising tide of Chinese nationalism has become increasingly apparent as angry crowds of Chinese showed outrage at the treatment of the runners. Local television has been inundated with pictures of the runners, appearing to cheering crowds as they went. Pictures of demonstrators by and large have not been publicized.

None of the protesters was able to get to the torchbearers in any of the cities that it has been carried through, although large security details have been necessary to protect it in many and numerous scuffles have broken out. Wheelchair-bound Chinese paralympian fencer Jin Jing was attacked by a Tibet independence protestor as she carried the Olympic torch in Paris. Her successful defence of the "sacred flame," as the Chinese state media refers to the torch, made her an instant icon in China.

Large and unruly demonstrations associated with protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet and other causes greeted the runners in London and Paris, for instance. In India, one of the country’s largest ever security operations had to be mounted to protect the torch and even then the route had to be shortened. In San Francisco, the route had to be changed at the last minute to throw demonstrators off the trail.

In South Korea, thousands of Chinese students attacked Koreans demonstrating against the Tibetan oppression and China’s forced repatriation of North Korean refugees. There were also clashes in Japan between Chinese students and local protesters and elsewhere in Asia there was little celebration. Thailand delivered massive police protection and threats of deportation should Tibetan exiles cause trouble. Indonesia kept the whole torch ceremony private.

It wasn’t until the torch got to North Korea to see a truly trouble-free passage. With authorities undoubtedly breathing a sigh of relief that the torch was on home soil, the Shenzhen leg of the trip actually had to be delayed from early morning to noon as Chinese mountaineers carried it to the top of Mount Everest, known as Qomololongma to the Chinese, earlier in the day No changes were were made or contemplated in the Shenzhen route although the distance run by each torchbearer was shortened from 200 meters to 100 because of the Qomololongma delay.
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