Thursday, April 24, 2008

Chinese embassy helped get 'rent-a-crowd' to relay

CHINA helped to orchestrate the mass demonstration by thousands of Chinese students that turned Canberra into a sea of red for yesterday's torch relay.
ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope confirmed the Chinese Embassy in Canberra was closely involved in helping transport up to 10,000 Chinese students, ensuring pro-China demonstrators vastly outnumbered Tibetan activists.

While the torch relay was celebrated as a remarkable against-the-odds success story by officials last night, the day will be remembered most for the fervent outpouring of Chinese nationalism.

It will also be remembered for the physical confrontation between Australian police and the infamous Chinese flame attendants. Australian Federal Police charged with securing the torch grabbed two of the flame attendants and took them aside to caution them shortly after the relay started.

Following the caution, the flame attendants were shadowed throughout the relay by AFP officers but did not attempt to play any further security role.

The revelation of official Chinese involvement in the demonstrations could trigger a diplomatic row with Australia's largest trading partner.

It is understood Beijing's officials in Canberra were in constant contact with travel companies and student leaders who were recruiting China's red army of young activists.

Mr Stanhope said he was not aware of the fine details of Beijing officials' involvement but he was certain they played a role.
"I have absolutely no doubt," he said. "In fact the ambassador has indicated that he was in contact with representative Chinese organisational groups, (for the) most part in Sydney and Melbourne.
"I don't know the nature of the links or the organisation but I know there was contact between the embassy and Chinese representative groups."
Asked if he believed China had helped to supply the thousands of professionally made flags and bunting, Mr Stanhope said: "I believe it must have been provided by a central agency."
The Chinese demonstrators appeared highly organised, with leaders sporting walkie-talkies and colour-coded uniforms.
The Chinese Students and Scholars Association yesterday admitted running a national web-based campaign to recruit students from across the country to travel to Canberra.
CSSA organiser Zhang Rongan said yesterday they had been overwhelmed by the response.
Police said up to 15,000 pro-Chinese demonstrators were at the relay, swamping the estimated 2000 pro-Tibetan activists.
Just seven people were arrested - a far cry from the chaotic violence that has marred previous relay legs in other Western cities such as London, Paris and San Francisco.
Police wrestled away some pro-Tibet demonstrators, including at least one who tried to sit in the path of torchbearer and former marathon runner Rob de Castella.
But many of the worst acts of violence were perpetrated away from the 1km convoy that accompanied the 88 torch runners.
Dozens of Tibetan protesters were surrounded by mini-mobs of Chinese protesters, who screamed "Liar, liar" and "One China forever" at them.
At one stage, near the National Library, the pro-China activists hurled water bottles and fruit at nearby Tibetan supporters.
In many instances, police ordered outnumbered Tibetan activists to leave sections of the relay route for their own safety.
The Tibetans were also told to leave the final stage because of concerns mass violence might break out.


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