Torch extinguished as protesters disrupt Paris relay leg

(dpa) - The Olympic torch was extinguished at least twice Monday in Paris as thousands of anti-China protesters disrupted its passage through the French capital, French media reported.
Police said that the torch was extinguished "for technical reasons" that were not related to the protests, but some media said that the action was taken to protect the torch from the human-rights demonstrators lining the planned 28-kilometre route.
An International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesman said that the group would not comment on the incidents.
"The torch is the responsibility of ... the local Olympic committee," he said, adding that the Olympic flame "never dies."
The first incident occurred about one hour after former world 400- metre-hurdles champion Stephane Diagana left the first level of the Eiffel Tower on the first leg of the torch's scheduled itinerary through the French capital.
Police then interrupted the relay at least three times to place the torch on a bus to protect it from protesters.
Because the demonstrators delayed the passage of the torch by at least two hours, it made the final leg of its trip by bus, shortening the route by at least one-fourth.
In addition, a number of scheduled ceremonies including one foreseen for the Chinese embassy were cancelled to avoid further incidents. Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe said that Chinese officials had cancelled a scheduled ceremony at City Hall.
Dozens of French lawmakers joined the anti-China protest.
About 50 deputies from all French parties stood behind a Tibetan flag and a banner reading "Respect Human Rights in China," as the torch passed the seat of the National Assembly in central Paris, BFM television reported.
Some of the lawmakers chanted "Freedom for Tibet" before all of them sang the French national anthem, the Marseillaise.
The Interior Ministry said that 18 people had been arrested.
French Sports Minister Bernard Laporte said the chaotic torch relay through Paris had harmed France's image.
"The party is a bit sad this evening," Laporte told France 2 television. "This is not a good move for France's image."
The disruptions occurred despite a heavy police presence following the torch's tumultuous passage Sunday through London, where at least 36 people were arrested.
Some 3,000 police officers were stationed on the ground, in the air and even on the Seine River, while the torch was accompanied by a tight security perimeter of some 400 police officers on foot, horseback, motorcycle and roller blades as well as in cars.
The media rights group Reporters Without Borders had vowed to carry out protests that will be "symbolic, spectacular ... but respectful of the Games."
The group hung a large protest banner on the Eiffel Tower, and three of its members chained themselves to the monument.
Reporters Without Borders was at the heart of pro-Tibetan protests at the torch-lighting ceremony in Greece, and the non-governmental organization called for an international boycott of the August 8 opening ceremonies in Beijing.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner have both said that "all options are open" regarding a possible boycott of the ceremonies.
Also Monday, Tibetan nationals living in France held a "citizen's day of solidarity" at the Square of Human Rights near the Eiffel Tower, to protest the Chinese crackdown on Tibetan pro-independence demonstrations.
Paris is the final European stop for the torch, which will then be flown to the western hemisphere for appearances Wednesday in San Francisco and Friday in Buenos Aires.

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