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What A Flaming Fiasco

 


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Calm has returned to the streets of Paris after a Monday afternoon, which saw the Olympic flame chaotically make its truncated way through the French capital.

What should have been a good natured celebration ahead of the sporting event of the year to be held in Beijing in August, turned into a heavily policed pantomime as protesters interrupted the progress of the torch.

The relay was cut short, the flame extinguished several times by security officials, stage after stage canceled and the flame arrived at its final destination 30 minutes late.

The afternoon didn't get off to a good start as the first of the scheduled 80 athletes taking part in the relay descended the Eiffel Tower. Within minutes a pattern was set that would continue for the duration of the torch's journey as demonstrators protesting at China's security crackdown in Tibet made their presence felt.

They made several attempts to put out the flame, lay in the path of the runners to stop their progress, held banners aloft and jeered as the torch passed.

The city's authorities had taken warning from the previous day's protests in London and 3,000 police lined the route and accompanied the runners on motorcycle, roller blades or jogging. A helicopter kept watch from overhead, and French riot police, never renowned for the lightest touch at the best of times, were forced to intervene on several occasions.

At times the torch itself was barely visible to the spectators that had gathered in the wintry temperatures and the hoards of television cameras following its painfully slow progress, captured the bewildered faces of athletes who clearly didn't understand what was happening.

Many of those scheduled to take part simply didn't get the chance as they were herded back on to a bus along with the torch as Chinese Olympic officials attempted to make up for time lost.

At the last minute those officials canceled a ceremony at the town hall, which was supposed to have welcomed the torch, and where a black banner with handcuffs replacing the symbol of the Olympic rings had been hung. The bemused mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, and a host of celebrities were also left wondering what was happening.

There were similar banners hung from some of the city's other landmarks including the Notre Dame cathedral and the Eiffel Tower.

But the relay did pass the National Assembly, where a number of parliamentarians had gathered to voice their protest.

When the torch finally arrived late at the Stade Charlety, it was by bus, with only the final hundred metres or so being completed on foot at snails pace, the bearer virtually lost from view in a sea of security.

It was all a far cry from the celebrations of four years ago when thousands lined the streets to applaud the torch's progress as hopes ran high with Paris still in the running to host the 2012 Games.

The next stop for the Olympic flame is San Francisco in the United States - unless the International Olympic Committee decides to abandon its 20-country journey.

For more on what's making the headlines here in France log on to http://www.persiflagefrance.com

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