Olympic torch relay snuffed out in Paris

Olympic torch relay snuffed out in Paris after rollerblading policemen and jogging firemen fail to protect flame

The Olympic torch was extinguished four times today before a relay through Paris was abruptly aborted by Chinese officials.

The round-the-world tour descended into French farce the day after extraordinary scenes in London.

In Britain protestors tried to put out the legendary flame with Chinese “heavies” keeping them at bay, but in Paris it was police who snuffed out the flame four times for “security reasons” — once because a group of demonstrators began booing.

“We had no choice,” said a police officer. “There were so many protestors threatening a public disturbance that it was no longer practical to keep it on a public road.”

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paris protest Olympics

Farce: The Olympic torch takes to a bus, flanked by police on roller blades and firmen in tracksuits

Olympic torch protests Paris

Angry: The frustration shows in the face of tennis player Arnaud Di Pasquale as he carries an extinguished Olympic torch

Chinese organisers finally decided to pull the plug on the public relations disaster two miles from the end of what was supposed to be an 18-mile route, bundling the torch onto a bus outside the National Assembly to be driven to a sports stadium.

The propane-fuelled flame is a crucial symbol of the history of the Olympics and is traditionally kept alight until the closing ceremony of the Games.

Campaigners for independence for Tibet were protesting against human rights violations by the Chinese, claiming Beijing was unfit to stage this summer’s Olympics.

There were at least ten arrests after thousands of demonstrators poured into Paris.

And the first incident came minutes after the relay began at the Eiffel Tower when a Paris city councillor lunged at gold-medal winning torchbearer Stephane Diagana.

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Olympic torch Paris

Paris pile up: Riot police run in to protect the torch which can be above a sea of heads

Police parade: A huge convoy of vehicles snakes through the streets of Paris behind an athlete bearing the Olympic torch

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Green Party member Sylvain Garel shouted “Freedom for the Chinese” as he attempted to grab the torch from the former hurdler.

The next disturbance happened barely 200 yards along the Left Bank of the Seine, with the torch put out and placed aboard a bus.

What appeared to be a panic decision was clearly an embarrassment to the French authorities who had put 3,000 police onto the streets, with 20 riot police vans and more officers on motorbikes and even rollerblades accompanying the Olympic cortege.

From then on, the procession advanced painfully slowly, stopping and starting as police checked for security risks.

The flame was reignited and then put out a further three times.

At least two activists got within almost an arm’s length of the flame before they were grabbed by police, and one protestor got close enough to throw water at the torch.

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Olympic torch protests

Pinned: Police hold down an anti-China protester as trouble breaks out along the Champs-Elysees

Extinguished: An athlete in a wheelchair carriers the torch, which has been put out, while a pro-Tibet protester walks alongside

Less than an hour after the flame left the Eiffel Tower, it was being carried out of a traffic tunnel by a woman athlete in a wheelchair when the procession was halted by activists who booed and chanted “Free Tibet.”

Once again, the torch was extinguished and put on a bus.

The third time, security officials apparently interrupted the procession because they spotted demonstrators ahead.

After the torch was put back on the bus, protesters threw rotten eggs, plastic bottles, cups and pieces of bread at the vehicle and at a male wheelchair-bound athlete.

The torch disappeared back inside the bus a fourth time shortly after a protester approached it with a fire extinguisher near the Louvre art museum.

Police grabbed the demonstrator before he could start to spray.

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paris Olympics protests

Chaos: In extraordinary scenes, the torch was soon crawling along at a snail’s pace, surrounded by hordes of Chinese officials, policeman on rollerblades, athletes – and camera crews

paris Olympics protests

Anger: Hundreds of demonstrators besieged Paris bearing Tibetan flags and shouting slogans

Other demonstrators scaled the Eiffel Tower and hung a banner depicting the Olympic rings as handcuffs.

In the end, the security situation was so bad that the circuit was abandoned altogether, some two miles short of the Stade Charlety where it was meant to end.

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paris protest Olympics

Three against one: Officers attempt to restrain a protester

paris Olympics protests

Violence: Officers, heavily covered in body armour, resorted to a heavy-handed approach with a protester

paris Olympics protests

Scuffles: Protesters tussle with police in a repeat of yesterday’s scenes in London

This was at the request of the Chinese authorities, French television reported.

Councillor Garel — who had earlier tried to snatch the torch — said forcing the police to douse the flame was a great “symbolic victory.”

He added: “The flame is supposed to be kept alight at all times. Having to put it out would clearly have been a huge disappointment to the organisers and the Chinese.”

Diagana, one of 80 athletes scheduled to carry the torch, said: “Nothing is happening as planned. It is sad.”

But France’s former sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour last night tried to play down France’s humiliation, claiming the true flame had been “kept burning throughout”.

He said: “Though the torch was put out aboard the bus, but the Olympic flame itself still burned in the lantern where it is kept overnight and on airplane flights.

“The torch has been extinguished but the flame is still there.”

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Protests: Activists unfurl a banner on the Eiffel Tower. The Olympic rings have been replaced by handcuffs

paris Olympics protests

Stuggle: Another demonstrator tussles with an officer over a Tibetan flag

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has left open the possibility of boycotting the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing depending on how the situation develops in Tibet.

Activists have been protesting along the torch route since the flame embarked on its 85,000-mile journey from Ancient Olympia in Greece to Beijing.

The round-the-world trip is the longest in Olympic history, and is meant to highlight China’s economic and political power.

Activists have seized on it as a platform for their causes, angering Beijing.

The torch relay also is expected to face demonstrations in San Francisco, New Delhi and possibly elsewhere on its 21-stop, six-continent tour before arriving in mainland China May 4.

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