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Olympic torch to take shorter route in Australia

The route of the Olympic torch relay will be shortened by the organisers to enable better security control.
Reuters | By Rob Taylor, Canberra
UPDATED ON APR 08, 2008 10:50 AM IST

Australian organisers of the Olympic torch relay through the capital Canberra said on Tuesday they were looking at route changes to boost security after protesters disrupted its progress through Paris and London.

The torch, which twice had to be extinguished during chaos in Paris on Monday, is due in the Australian capital later this month, but organisers said they were now looking at shortening the route to make it easier for police to control.

China has condemned as "vile" a growing campaign by activists to use the build-up to the Beijing Olympics as a stage on which to condemn China's record in Tibet, on human rights in general and to attack its foreign policy.

"This was a great opportunity for us to present Canberra to the rest of Australia and to the rest of the world, and we were looking forward to that opportunity," said John Stanhope, Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, or ACT.

"We are still hopeful we can do that, but here we have a level of anxiety of course about what we have witnessed and the prospect of that being repeated here," Stanhope said.

Scenes of British and French police clashing with protesters have raised fears Australian police may be unable to provide adequate protection for the expected 80 torch bearers.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, visiting London for talks with his British counterpart Gordon Brown before leaving for Beijing, said China would not be permitted to have its own tracksuit-clad security detachment for the torch in Australia.

"We, Australia, are providing that security," the Mandarin-speaking former diplomat Rudd told Australian media.

Tibet activists in Canberra said they expected around 1,000 protesters to greet the torch when it arrived at an air force base near the centre of the lakeside city.

"I think people are going to be very desperate, and very frustrated that we are not going to have a chance to voice our opinions," said Tsering Deki Tshoko, the president of the ACT Tibetan community.

The torch is due to arrive in Canberra on April 23, with the relay the following day passing Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial and other key city landmarks.

ACT torch relay organiser and lawmaker Ted Quinlan said he feared the protests in London and Paris could lead to "a rolling and growing movement" with activists trying to outdo one another, with demonstrations getting more and more violent.

"My concern is that by the time it gets here, there have been a whole series of protests and that's all everybody is expecting for the day," Quinlan told reporters.

Protesters clashed with Australian police outside the Chinese embassy last month in a demonstration against Beijing's crackdown on unrest in Tibet.

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