Saturday, April 05, 2008

London set to welcome "Flame of Shame" and China works on clearing the route further along its journey

The headline from today's "Times" should give anyone considering cheering the flame along the streets of London tomorrow, pause for thought:

From The Times
April 5, 2008
"Exclusive: Chinese police kill eight after opening fire on monks and Tibet protesters
'They cried long live the Dalai Lama – then the firing started"

It is certain some people will turn out to cheer. The friends and families of those selected to carry the torch accross London are obvious "supporters". Shoppers and tourists passing by will take photographs. However there seems no mass urge to welcome this torch. It is certainly not in the popular imagination here.

Then of course there will be the protestors, rallying from around Britain and beyond. The Police have promised a robust approach to anyone who disrupts the flame's journey. They even have Chinese interpreters working with them to identify posters or banners that are insulting in Mandarin. One wonders if people will get arrested for holding an "insulting" anti-Chinese Government poster written in Mandarin when last year it seemed more or less fine for extreme islamists to walk through London with posters saying "Behead those who insult Islam", "Massacre the Unbelievers" etc. No hint of double standards by the Metropolitan Police here !

One imagines a few Tibetan student groups (largely peaceful Buddhists), intellectuals and others concerned about human rights in China will be an easy crowd for 2,000 police to deal with compared to Islamists who are quite prepared to cheer those who attempt to blow up passenger planes.

However overall the hope has to be that in London town, free speech is still allowed to some extent so the protestors will get their opportunity to be heard. If protestors can be seen and heard in Istanbul, Turkey surely this should be permitted in London ?

Samsung, the Korean electronics giant, put out several full page adverts in London papers yesterday promoting their sponsorship of the flame and encouraging people to watch "history in the making" in London. No sign of them backing down but then I read about a corruption probe at the highest levels of the company so I imagine worrying about sponsoring a tainted flame is lower down their list of priorities at the moment.

It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow in London. For anyone looking at this page for information on the London protests, you are best looking at the Free Tibet page.

Will I be protesting ? I am not really the street protest type ! (although I did recently make it to the Chinese Embassy one Monday evening). However I guess I will either be "boycotting" or if I can make it away from home commitments (a trip to Heathow Terminal 5 (!) with my Mother-in-Law and looking after our ever more mobile 9 month old son being the main ones this weekend) for a little bit, I will go to "boo" it at Canary Wharf or the Dome on its final leg.

On the one hand I realise this is rather futile but on the other this is all about symbolism. The flame really doesn't matter a hoot with its pseudo pagan lighting in Greece. All it does say is this flame has travelled around the world before reaching the Olympics in China. In some way this can be interpretted as the world giving support to the Beijing Olympics and by association the Chinese Government. The fact it will be travelling through suppressed Tibet is more significant. If protestors in London and elsewhere open a few more eyes to the dreadful abuses in Tibet and indeed across China for those who want to speak their mind, then not all will have been in vain.

I hope London proves it is still a City of free speech and gives the flame a rowdy but peaceful arrival. Part of me would like to see someone pour a bucket of water over it from an upper storey of a building as it passes by. However that probably won't happen. I think London will probably settle for a mixture of cheers, boos, slogans and apathy !

Never mind, it is off to Paris next- a City that really knows how to protest !

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