In The News
April 9, 2008

The controversy surrounding the path of the Olympic torch has continued after it emerged the flame’s attendants are graduates of a Chinese paramilitary police academy.

The torch’s path through London caused an international outcry after the aggressive handling of protestors demonstrating against China’s alleged human rights abuses in Tibet, with Lord Sebastian Coe labelling the guards “thugs”.

While their task is to prevent the flame from being extinguished – a role they failed in on three occasions as the flame made its way through Paris – they have been seen to wrestle protestors to the ground using techniques acquired at China’s Armed Police Academy, according to the Times newspaper.

The men are reported to have graduated from the academy less than a year ago with some of their colleagues currently employed in Tibet to quell anti-Chinese demonstrations.

Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq’s carrying of the torch was disrupted by a pro-Tibet activist attempting to grab the torch and Ms Huq has since described the guards’ response as “very robotic”.

“They were barking orders like ‘run’ and ‘stop’ and I was like, ‘Who are these people?’,” she added.

In response to the reports regarding the attendants’ background, shadow home secretary David Davis has written to home secretary Jacqui Smith.

“Who in the British government authorised their presence and what checks were made as to their background?” he asked.

“They appear to have some role in providing security and were seen manhandling protesters. They even accompanied the torch into Downing Street and were highly visible in the picture with the prime minister.”

A spokesman for the Home Office confirmed the department had received a letter from the shadow home secretary and said a response would be issued in due course.

While the department does not comment on individual cases, the spokesman confirmed that the official delegation of Beijing Organising Committee of the Olympic Games were issued visit visas for the transportation of the flame but said the Home Office would not be issuing a comment regarding the attendants’ background.

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