BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Monday denounced protests that dogged the Beijing Olympic torch relay through London, while state media announced impending trials of people accused of rioting in the Tibetan capital.
Protesters opposing a security drive in Tibet and demanding the mountain region’s independence turned Sunday’s London leg of the torch’s journey into an obstacle course of angry disruptions -- not what China wanted for its “journey of harmony”.
At least 35 people were arrested and the wedge of police guarding the Olympic torch at one point were forced to hustle it on to a double-decker bus when about 100 protesters tried to seize it.
Chinese state television focused on the larger crowds of well-wishers who lined the route and British sports celebrities holding the torch, showing nothing of the protests.
But an official quoted by the state-run Xinhua news agency was bluntly angry.
“Today a tiny number of Tibet independence elements sought to disrupt the relay of the Olympic Games sacred flame through London,” said an unnamed spokesperson of the Beijing Olympic Games torch relay office.
“We strongly condemn this vile behavior.”
Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, was hit last month by Buddhist monks’ protests against Chinese rule that gave way to deadly rioting on March 14, and since then security forces have poured in to reimpose control there and in other restive Tibetan areas.
The Olympic flame is expected to remain a magnet for anti-Chinese protests ahead of the Games in Beijing, with campaigns aimed at Tibet and also at Sudan, where critics say Beijing has not done enough to help stop deadly strife in Darfur.
Chinese officials have accused the Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, of organizing the unrest to press for independence ahead of the Beijing Games in August and have vowed to come down hard on rioters and protesters.
The Dalai Lama has repeatedly denied the accusations and said he wants true autonomy, but not outright independence, for Tibet.
The first group of suspects accused of deadly rioting will soon go on trial in Lhasa, the China News Service reported, citing officials.
Prosecutors have sent 17 people for trial on charges of “arson homicide”. An official cited said the accused would “receive the harsh sanction of the law”.
Police said last week they had caught more than 800 people involved in the Lhasa violence and 280 others had turned themselves in.
China says 19 people died in the Lhasa riot, but representatives of the Dalai Lama say some 140 people died in the broader unrest across Tibet and nearby areas.
The Olympic flame arrives in Paris on Monday before crossing the ocean to San Francisco, both places where the atmosphere is likely to be tense.
Additional reporting by Simon Rabinovitch; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson