25 April 2008 - 8:46AM
City's shining example eclipses ugly side
By Megan Doherty City Reporter
Canberra had "shown the world" how to stage a successful leg of the Beijing Olympics torch relay despite seven arrests and ugly scenes among some moments of real beauty and pride yesterday.
A massive contingent of Chinese inundated Canberra for the day, most bussed in from interstate, leading to speculation it was only an orchestrated display of nationalism designed to swamp pro-Tibet sentiment.
Some violent scuffles erupted within the crowds but most stoushes were verbal not physical.
Police estimated 7500 Chinese were present in Canberra, compared with 2000 pro-Tibet supporters.
But the Chinese Students and Scholars Association said the figure was more than 20,000, creating unprecedented scenes in Canberra as the five-starred red flag took over the national capital.
The Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China which supports one China claimed 10,000 Chinese came just from Sydney.
"We are not here for protests, we are here for the Olympics because this is the dream we've been dreaming for 100 years," vice-president Dr Ven Tan said.
ACT Chief Police Officer Michael Phelan said the 550 local and interstate police had done their job well. He had received no complaints or reports of injuries.
"There were certainly enough police to look after, not only the protection of the torch, the runners, but also the public at large," he said.
ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope declared the day an "outstanding success".
While he was dismayed by the aggression shown by some Chinese, he believed the vast majority were displaying "proud nationalism" equivalent to Australians at the 2006 soccer World Cup in Germany.
Mr Stanhope said the Canberra leg of the Beijing Olympics torch relay had been better than any of the previous 14 sections and "it didn't go to custard" like the London, Paris or San Francisco routes.
"I had one priority today a successful relay displaying Australia through its national capital to the world and we exceeded beyond my wildest expectations in doing that," he said
The police and a steel fence ensured the Olympic flame travelled the entire 16km route and even across Lake Burley Griffin by a women's rowing eight without being accosted by protesters or taken inside a vehicle or building for protection.
Olympic gold medallist swimmer Libby Trickett (nee Lenton) was beaming after completing her section down Commonwealth Avenue, in what was her first torch relay run.
"That was fantastic, so much fun and the crowd was amazing I'm still buzzing," she said.
There was jostling between an AFP officer and a torch attendant at the beginning of the relay. Mr Phelan said it was a minor miscommunication about how close the attendant could be to the flame.
"Once it was articulated, it was not a problem," he said.
ACT Olympic Torch Relay Organising Committee chairman Ted Quinlan was surprised by the numbers of Chinese who did turn out for the day but maintained organisers had not been overwhelmed.
"Australia has shown the world again that we can organise an event better than anyone," he said.
Veteran Olympian Ron Clarke, who was the second-last of the 80 torch-bearers, said the Canberra leg of the relay had been "a big success", as the Olympic flame left last night for Japan for its the next section.
"I think it's set the pattern for the rest of the world," Mr Clarke said.
"It just shows you what can be done when it's properly organised, frankly. It's a pity that other people like San Francisco didn't have the same sort of planning and forethought."
Mr Phelan said the seven people arrested had been charged with offences under the Major Events Security Act. The five pro-Chinese and two pro-Tibet supporters faced fines if found guilty.
One of the seven arrested was a man who sat on Commonwealth Avenue ahead of Rob de Castella as the Olympian ran with the flame towards Parliament House. Mr Phelan defended the manner in which the police removed the man from the road. "I thought it was appropriate," he said.
At Reconciliation Place and Parliament House, there were tense stand-offs and violent scuffles between pro-Chinese and pro-Tibet or pro-East Turkistan groups, with police either forming a barricade between the opposing sides or dragging protesters out of the crowd to be detained on police buses.
One small section of the Chinese were aggressive, screaming abuse at Tibetan supporters and sticking their fingers up at monks. There were complaints of Tibetan supporters being roughed up and their flags being smothered.
Some Tibetan demonstrators, too, seemed to want to provoke a response, repeatedly walked past the aggressive section of the Chinese crowd, ignoring the majority who were standing peacefully watching the unfolding ceremony.
Pro-Tibet supporter Loretta Rosa said she had taken shelter near a media tent at Reconciliation Place because she did not feel safe walking through the crowds displaying a Tibet flag.
"As an Australian, I should be able to come here and feel safe to carry my point of view as well as the thousands and thousands of Chinese flags I've seen around Canberra," she said.
Gungahlin student Yongjie Qi, 22, who came to Australia from China seven years ago, said he wanted no trouble yesterday.
"We are peaceful, we are happy to be here and we wish to have a really, really good Olympics this year," he said.
There was tit-for-tat protest action throughout the day: Greens senator Bob Brown commissioned a sky-writer to emblazon the sky above Parliament House with "Free Tibet"; it was quickly followed by a light plane dragging a "Go Go Beijing Olympics" sign.
Before the relay start, Mr Stanhope had called for respect for the torch-bearers, "some of whom have done more to advance the cause of human rights on this planet than most of us will ever dream of doing".
The total cost of running the relay would double to about $2 million mainly due to a "significant" police overtime bill. Mr Stanhope did not yet have a firm commitment from the Commonwealth to pay half.
"I would have spent 10 times the $2 million we spent to achieve what I've achieved in the national capital today," he said.
The ACT Government estimated there were 20,000 people at Reconciliation Place, 15,000 at Parliament House, 3000 at the Australian War Memorial and 40,000 at Commonwealth Park, but said some people would have moved from location to location.