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Chaotic scenes at London Olympic torch relay

LONDON (Reuters) - Beijing Olympic torch relay spokesman Qu Yingpu said on Sunday the flame had brought “hope and friendship” to London.

The chaotic scenes in the capital told a different story.

Protesters draped in Tibetan flags hurled themselves into the path of the torch as it was carried across the city. Police rugby-tackled campaigners or pushed them into barriers.

One man managed to get his hands on the torch before police dragged him away. Two others even tried to douse the flame with a fire extinguisher before being arrested.

“China has no right parading the Olympic torch through London. The relay itself is nothing more than an elaborate propaganda tool to cover its appalling human rights record,” they said in a statement read to Reuters by a witness.

Three rings of guards, both British police and Chinese officials, ran alongside anxious-looking torch bearers throughout the 31-mile (50-km) journey.

At one point, the flame was rushed onto a double-decker bus decked out with the slogan “Light the Passion, Share the Dream” to escape crowds of anti-China campaigners.

Police vans sped alongside as the bus hurried along streets lined with bemused spectators, cameras at the ready.

Activists waved placards saying “Shame on China” and “Stop the Killing. Stop the Torture” in protest at China’s crackdown in Tibet, its reluctance to join international efforts to stop bloodshed in Sudan’s Darfur region and other human rights issues.

Lizzy Pollard, 35, China campaign coordinator for a north London branch of Amnesty International, was outside Downing Street, which proved a flashpoint for protests.

PROMISE

“We’re here to get the message to the Chinese government to fulfill their promise to improve their human rights record, which they made when they got their Olympic bid in 2001,” she said.

Temzin Dolma, 20, of Tibetan descent, clutched a balloon with a red cross on it outside Downing Street.

“I’m here to protest against the torture in Tibet,” she said, urging international humanitarian agencies to go to Tibet to register human rights abuses.

Project manager Peter Brooke, 55, waving a large Tibetan flag outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, said he was protesting “the human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing in Tibet.”

Inevitably, anti-China protesters stole the spotlight but thousands of pro-China campaigners also lined the streets.

Police tried to keep the two sides apart but there were some clashes and verbal abuse.

Chen Liang, 21, from China, was adamant Chinese police had done no wrong in the recent clashes in Tibet: “We’ve come here to support our own country and to see the torch. Most of those people have never been to China and they don’t know what’s happening there.”

Julie Li, 28, also from China but living in Britain, said sport and politics should be kept apart.

“There is no connection with politics -- games are games. It has nothing to do with politics. The people who are here to demonstrate just want to show off,” she said.

The torch’s journey was plagued from the start as snow showers covered London and kept many people away.

In a blow to the relay’s finale, pop band The Sugababes withdrew from the closing event saying one of their singers was suffering with laryngitis.

Reporting by Katherine Baldwin; editing by Andrew Roche

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