Australians could witness the "Olympic torch equivalent of football hooliganism" unless protesters avoid violence when the relay comes to Canberra this week, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Sunday. ( dpa )
His warning came as the organizers of the Australian leg of China's troubled relay began erecting barriers along the whole 16-kilometre course through the nation's capital.
Protesters and spectators will not be allowed near the 80 runners scheduled to carry the torch on Thursday.
"If people are going to turn up and put a view about the torch, whether it's in favour of the torch relay or making a point about Tibet, they need to do it in a peaceful way," Smith said. "I'm very concerned that unless people turn up with that attitude we'll have the Olympic torch equivalent of football hooliganism."
Police have been given 24-hour emergency powers to head off clashes. They can confiscate prohibited items, including eggs, paint-filled balloons and buckets of water. They also have the power to detain individuals deemed suspicious.
Pro-Beijing protest organizer Zhang Rongan told The Sydney Morning Herald that the Chinese embassy in Canberra had promised free transport from Sydney and Melbourne and free meals for those who wanted to show their support for Beijing. He estimated that up to 10,000 Chinese could be in Canberra to welcome the torch.
Tibetan community leader Tsering Deki said she hoped there would be no confrontation with the pro-Beijing demonstrators.
"We have no intention of making it violent," she said. "I can speak for the Tibetan community and our supporters, but because I think there will be a lot of Chinese students also coming, I just hope there are no clashes."
Greens leader Bob Brown, a member of the federal parliament, said it was hypocrisy for Chinese students to plan demonstrations in a foreign country when they would be arrested if they tried to demonstrate in their own country.
"I just hope that they don't deny the Tibetans their right to peaceful protest in this country," Brown said.