The parade of the Olympic torch through London last Sunday turned into a debacle as several Tibet protesters broke through police cordons and managed to seriously disrupt the procession.
What was meant to be a brilliant public relations exercise designed to generate public excitement about the Beijing Olympics in 2008 turned instead into a chaotic mess that will be viewed as a success by pro-Tibet activists, and which has inadvertently managed to reinforce a negative image of China.
There has been a lot of disquiet expressed about the Chinese 'heavies' running alongside the torch during the parade and the manner in which they behaved when there was trouble.
Who were these mysterious men in tracksuits with earpieces shouting orders?
What jurisdiction did they have to manhandle members of the public, potentially causing injury to either themselves or others? Were they the ones running the show or was it the Metropolitan police, who were also there alongside them in great numbers?
You can see more footage of the clashes here.
Some observers felt that the altercations they witnessed on TV were a unpleasant taste of Communist China style policing taking place on British soil. And they didn't like it:
One protester who managed to break through the police cordon, David Allen said his anger at the parading of the torch through the capital flared at the sight of British sporting stars being guarded in the streets of London by Chinese security men. "What really got my goat was our sporting heroes being surrounded by the Chinese security heavies guarding the torch," he said. "It makes us complicit in the regime's repression. You have to ask, 'Where were these security men last week?' Beating up people in the villages of China, no doubt."
Article: International Herald Tribune
Well, that may be an exaggeration but according to Reuters, the specially selected 'torch attendants' were indeed hand picked from the ranks of the same armed police force that would have been patrolling the streets of Lhasa.
Employed by the Beijing Olympic Organising Committee (BOCOG), the "flame protection squad" was formed in August 2007 to safeguard the fire 24 hours a day on its 137,000-km (85,130-mile), 130-day relay, state media have reported.
Its members were picked from the ranks of the People's Armed Police, the security force spun off from the army that is responsible for riot control and domestic stability. Tens of thousands of "wujing", as they are called in Chinese, have been deployed to Tibet and neighbouring areas to quash recent unrest.
In an unguarded comment, London Olympics chief Sebastian Coe is reported to have said about the Chinese security guards: "One thing in Paris is to get rid of those guys. They tried to push me out of the way three times. They are horrible. They did not speak English. They were thugs."
Article: Daily Mail
A further sense of how some British people feel about this incident can be found on the Guido Fawkes blog 'Order Order', a well known political blog specializing in British parliamentary matters. It was especially critical of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's decision to be involved in the ceremony:
Article: Chinese Goons in Downing Street
A selection of some of the comments:
"Very worrying to see UK police surpressing protesters with the help of blue track suited Chinese special forces. The touch relay has nothing to do with the Olympics and everything to do with Chinese propaganda. We in the UK are somewhat free sometimes to protest, totally unlike those long hard suffering Tibetan people."
"The Met should have arrested one or two to make a point that the Chinese may be able to shove people around in Tibet but not in Downing Street. This whole debacle did nothing for this country"
"We were deeply ashamed to watch the whole damning episode on last night's news. There's really nothing even faintly amusing that can be said about seeing this embarrassing farrago and the disgusting sight of Chinese security men taking precedence in London streets and outside No 10."
"Why should I have to pay for some Chinese Properganda ON MY SOIL? Then to top it all off there was the sight of some Chinese stormtroopers marching in formation down Downing Street pushing people and ordering them about for a photo-op"
"I particularly liked the black leather gloves sported by the chinese secret police, all the better for smacking any protesters around."
Clearly the presence of the torch attendants did not go down well. So why wasn't the whole thing managed by the UK police? Well, in the aftermath the police have blamed the Beijing Olympic Committee for making many of the key decisions about the parade and the chaos that ensued.
I have to admit it's hard to imagine experienced, local London cops running an event in such a mismanaged and chaotic way as was seen that day.
Related: Olympic Spirit Comes to Britain
Related: Clashes along Olympic torch route