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Torch relay held behind closed doors in Indonesia

world Updated: Apr 22, 2008 14:53 IST
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The Beijing Olympics torch relay was held on Tuesday behind closed doors under blanket security in Indonesia amid Chinese anger at protests over its human rights record.

Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo began the event before a carefully selected, invitation-only crowd of several thousand cheering onlookers at the national stadium, but the flame spluttered out after a few seconds and had to be re-lit.

Police earlier broke up a rally by pro-Tibet activists outside the sprawling sports complex, which was closed to the public and protected by hundreds of security forces.

About 100 protesters wearing "Free Tibet" T-shirts were carrying banners reading "No human rights no Olympics" and chanting "A united people will be invincible" when police moved in, dragging nine away for questioning.

All were quickly released at the scene, but a Dutch man was taken to Jakarta police headquarters and remains in custody.

"Police have not said anything until now, I don't know what is happening," he told AFP by telephone from the station.

The rally outside the national stadium came three hours ahead of the 2:00 pm (0700 GMT) start of the heavily restricted relay event, which was closed to the public and taken off public roads at China's request, officials said.

Officials had wanted to parade the Olympic flame, on its first ever visit to Indonesia, through the capital's traffic-clogged streets and Chinatown but the plans were changed radically after "coordination" with Beijing.

China has been keen to prevent further embarrassing human rights protests like those that marred previous relay legs in Europe and the United States.

The relay was witnessed by only a few thousand people -- reportedly including 1,000 Chinese students -- who had official invitations.

"The area has been sterilized and now only those with an invitation or the proper ID cards can enter," Asep Dayat, a policeman at the scene, told AFP.

Eighty people from all walks of life were scheduled to take turns carrying the torch along a seven-kilometre (4.2-mile) route inside the sports complex.

Torch bearers included Tourism Minister Jero Wacik, Chinese Ambassador Lan Linjun, Sports and Youth Minister Adhyaksa Dault and badminton world champion Taufik Hidayat.

Rights activists said Indonesia had buckled under Chinese pressure to quash protests over its seizure of Tibet almost 60 years ago.

"We are very saddened by the way the Olympics are being handled at this time," said Gatot of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation.

"The move to restrict the torch relay is against the Olympic spirit of openness, togetherness and respect for others."

Protests against Chinese rule rocked Tibet last month in one of the worst outbreaks of violence there since China seized control of the Himalayan region in 1950.

Thousands of Chinese protesters targeted outlets of a French retailer over the weekend after pro-Tibet demonstrators interrupted the French leg of the torch relay.