CANBERRA – The Beijing Olympic flame arrived in Australia early Wednesday ahead of a torch relay through the capital Canberra to be held amid tight security.
The flame, which has become the focus of international protests against Olympic host China’s treatment of Tibet, arrived at a military airfield at about 7:50 am (2150 GMT Tuesday) on a chartered Air China jet from Jakarta.
It was carried off the plane by Chinese officials and greeted on the airport tarmac by Aboriginal community leaders.
Thousands of Chinese supporters and pro-Tibet protesters are expected to descend on Canberra for its journey around the capital on Thursday.
Barriers have been erected along the 16-kilometre route and more than half the city’s police force will patrol the spectacle after violent incidents in Europe and the US.
Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said the torch provided an opportunity to reflect on the uniting spirit of sport.
“Participation in this relay is important,” he said, adding it was also important for people who had concerns about human rights to be able to air their differences.
Ahead of the torch’s arrival in Australia, China’s ambassador in Canberra Zhang Junsai said he had been angered by the attacks on the torch in Paris and London and he hoped the Canberra leg would be trouble free.
Zhang said the image of a young wheel-chair bound athlete, “holding the torch with both arms close to her chest to protect the flame as violent ‘protesters’ tried repeatedly to grab it from her, has infuriated me.”
“The Olympic Games supporters should feel concerned with the behaviour displayed by some minority groups who are determined to dampen the Spirit of Olympic Games,” he said in an article on the embassy’s website. – AFP/ir
Channel News Asia