Editor’s note: Former Shanghaiist contributor Hélène Franchineau was present at the Olympic torch relay in Paris earlier today and tells us of what she saw and heard.
Today at 12:35pm Paris time, the Olympic torch left from the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. It was supposed to travel through the capital for 28 km along the Champs Elysées, the City Hall and the Louvre to end its journey at 5pm in front of the French Olympic Committee. But as with its London journey, things didn’t turn out as smoothly as predicted.
No less than 3, 000 policemen were called to protect the torch bearer, among which 100 policemen on roller blades, 100 policemen jogging, about 16 buses, 65 policmen on motorbikes.
Living not far from the Iron Lady, we went to see the torch relay. We arrived at 12pm near the Eiffel Tower, which was completely closed down. Dozens of demonstrators were already standing on the sidewalk, chanting and waving Tibet flags. Some of them argued with Chinese people, who were waving Chinese flags. All of this in front of TV cameras of course…
At 12:40pm, the police escort started moving, and so we knew that the torch was coming closer. Then from there all hell broke loose. Some activists were running on the streets and were immediately evacuated by policemen. Behind a bus full of Chinese journalists and cameramen, there was a mob of joggers and policemen. In the middle of all this, we could see the torch. People were booing and chanting “Liberté au Tibet!” (Free Tibet!) and trying to avoid the policemen.
Then the escort stopped, and the torch disappeared into a bus. It was so fast that we hardly saw what happened, but the thing is that for at least 100 meters there was no torch outside.
According to AFP, at least 6 people tried to douse the flame. For “technical reasons”, the flame was extinguished by security officers at 13:01pm, only to be lit on at 13:50pm.
It is also reported that some Reporters Without Borders activists tied themselves to the Eiffel Tower, on the 1st floor, after unfurling a black flag of their now infamous image of the Olympic rings replaced with handcuffs.
Last but not least, Mireille Ferri, a French politician member of the Green Party, was arrested by the police as she was walking towards a meeting point with her fire extinguisher…
Yesterday’s protests in London and today’s in Paris have embarrassed UK and French security officials, and caused a public relations nightmare for China. Despite a year of planning, and the deployment of 2,000 policemen in London and 3,000 in Paris, the protestors were unstoppable and managed to break through the security cordon again and again. Earlier, various Chinese officials, including the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, had assured time and again that “attempts by anti-China elements to harass and disrupt the Olympic torch relay scheduled for next Wednesday in San Francisco are doomed to failure”. A Chinese embassy official in Paris also promised the torch’s relay would be a “great festival” and that any protests would come from a “tiny minority.” Looks like they were all dead wrong.
More photos to come in a separate post, so watch this space.