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Concern mounts as torch begins Asian journey

April 16, 2008 17:04 IST

Security forces were deployed in Pakistan's capital Islamabad on Wednesday for the visit of the Olympic torch, as safety fears rose for the relay in Australia after Chinese students called pro-Tibet supporters "scum".

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Australian police received tough powers to search torch relay protesters for weapons, as China supporters called for strong men to guard the flame against pro-Tibet "running dogs" during its stopover in Canberra next week.

Embarking on the first leg of its relay in Asia after being beset by trouble through Europe and the Americas, the torch arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday amid heightened security even though officials said they had been no specific threat.

Pakistan has been hit by a wave of militant bomb attacks and Pakistani officials said the torch relay would be confined to an Islamabad stadium and not proceed down the city's main boulevard.

Paramilitary troops and police have been deployed in and around the stadium and along the relay route.

Pakistan Olympic Association president Arif Hassan said the country, a staunch China ally, was proud to host the torch which would help improve the country's image.

"God willing, once everything goes well, I think it'll send a clear message to the whole world that they'll be seeing the real face of Pakistan," Hassan said.

The global relay has sparked chaos in San Francisco, London and Paris, where anti-China protesters have tried to disrupt the torch to protest against China's treatment of Tibetans during a recent crackdown.

China's policies on Sudan have also angered demonstrators.

In some places, protesters tried to snuff out the flame and organisers extinguished or hid the torch to keep it safe.

The images of pro-Tibet protesters attacking the torch have prompted an outpouring of anger among Chinese nationals and ethnic Chinese globally.

President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani are expected to attend a ceremony for the torch relay at the Islamabad stadium before the flame is taken to Mumbai, India.


India has trimmed the route of its torch relay on Thursday, fearing Tibetan protesters might try to disrupt it.

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan government-in-exile are based in northern India and the country has had dozens of anti-China protests since last month's riots in Tibet and other regions.

China has said it believes India will take effective steps to protect the torch. Tibetan leaders in India said they were preparing to protest in spite of heavy security.

In Australia, Zhang Rongan, of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, said he hoped 10,000 students and Chinese Australians would travel to Canberra for the April 24 torch relay to guard against demonstrators.

Pro-Tibet demonstrators expect at least 1,000 people to travel to the capital in a bid to interrupt the torch's path past major national buildings, including the parliament.

Lawmakers in the Australian capital have already cut back the route of the relay and on Wednesday approved special powers for police to stop and search protesters for weapons, as well as paint-filled balloons, eggs and fire extinguishers.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd this week ruled out a security role for Chinese paramilitary guards who have run beside the torch in blue tracksuits during clashes in Europe and the United States.

Zhang's Web site called for 150 "strong and energetic runners" to help guard the flame in Australia against Tibetan "splittists", although he hoped rival protest groups would be kept separate by police.

A student message referred to anti-China protesters as "ethnic degenerate scum or anti-Chinese running dogs".

A letter from Chinese authorities circulated to students in Australia asked protesters to "prevent all actions that can in any way be detrimental to the image of China".

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