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Security dispute hits Olympic torch run in Australia

The role of Chinese escorts travelling with the Olympic flame was in dispute on Wednesday as Australian officials insisted the tracksuit-clad visitors would have no security function.

world Updated: Apr 24, 2008 08:04 IST

The role of Chinese escorts travelling with the Olympic flame was in dispute on Wednesday as Australian officials insisted the tracksuit-clad visitors would have no security function.

Canberra police chief Mike Phelan said Australian officers would be fully in control of security arrangements when the troubled torch relay makes its way along a 16-kilometre (10 mile) route in Canberra on Thursday.

"All security in relation to the torch will be supplied by AFP (Australian Federal Police) officers on the ground," Phelan told a press conference shortly after the flame arrived in Canberra on a chartered Chinese airliner.

"They (the Chinese escorts) will not be performing any security function whatsoever."

The torch has been the target of protests against China's treatment of Tibet since it was lit in Greece on March 24, with ugly scenes in London and Paris as angry demonstrators attempted to wrest the torch from runners.

In London witnesses accused the torch escorts of grappling with protesters and Britain's 2012 Olympic chief Sebastian Coe was overheard referring to them as thugs.

Beijing Olympics torch relay spokesman Qu Yingpu told the Canberra news conference he was confident of Australian security arrangements but said the escorts could protect the flame.

Quoting from what he said was a technical book, he said the unarmed escorts were employed "to respond to any immediate threat against the flame or torch carrier."

"These runners should be trained security personnel with the ability to cover and evacuate the torch carriers in the case of emergency," he said.

But Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said this was not the case and that the Chinese officials would be given a briefing on the subject later Wednesday.

Stanhope said the written conditions referred to had not been accepted by the government.

"We do have some issues around communications," he said, adding that he had clarified Australia's position with the Chinese ambassador Zhang Junsai, who had earlier said the escorts could use their bodies to protect the torch.