The global procession of the Olympic flame – a symbol of sporting values hijacked as a symbol of Chinese state pride – stumbled into abject political embarrassment for Beijing and Western governments yesterday.
The day after determined protests in London, a 17-mile torch relay through Paris dissolved into chaos, farce and, finally, cancellation. The torch, although not the master flame, was extinguished at least four times as an elaborate security screen failed to fend off pro-Tibet and human rights demonstrators.
Finally, at the insistence of the Chinese officials, the finale of the five-hour parade was abandoned. The flame was carried ignominiously through the streets of the City of Light in a police bus. French television and news agencies talked last night of a "security fiasco". Activists spoke of a triumph for the defence of Tibetan and human rights.
The French government, which has blown hot and cold in its response to the Chinese crackdown in Tibet, had mobilised everything from police on roller skates to helicopters to protect the torch procession. Beijing flooded the French capital with thousands of enthusiastic Chinese students from all over Europe. But the result was an unequivocal victory for the relatively small, scattered hit-squads of Tibetan and French – and a few Chinese – protesters.