The guards protecting the Olympic flame had paramilitary training and were chosen by Beijing for their toughness and fitness
Jane Macartney in Beijing and Richard Ford
China’s blue-clad flame attendants, whose aggressive methods of safeguarding the Olympic torch have provoked international outcry, are paramilitary police from a force spun off from the country’s army.
The squad of 30 young men from the police academy that turns out the cream of the paramilitary security force has the job at home of ensuring riot control, domestic stability and the protection of diplomats.
Questions are now being asked as to who authorised their presence as the http://www.wvwnews.net/story.php?id=3729 was carried through London. The Conservatives demanded clarification from the Government last night.
The guards’ task for the torch relay is to ensure the flame is never extinguished – although it was put out three times in Paris – and now increasingly to prevent protesters demonstrating against http://www.wvwnews.net/story.php?id=4033 from interfering with it. But the aggression with which the guards have been pursuing their brief has provoked anger, not least in London where they were seen wrestling protesters to the ground and were described as “thugs” by Lord Coe.
The Olympic medallist and organiser of the 2012 Games was overheard saying that the officials had pushed him around as the torch made its way through the capital on Sunday. He added that other countries on the route should “get rid of those guys”.
“They tried to punch me out of the way three times. They are horrible. They did not speak English . . . I think they were thugs.”
His comments came after Konnie Huq, the former Blue Peter presenter, who was one of the torchbearers on Sunday, described how she had seen the officials in “skirmishes” with the police.
Ms Huq, who was carrying the torch when a pro-Tibet activist tried to snatch the flame, said of the guards: “They were very robotic, full-on . . . They were barking orders like ‘run’ and ‘stop’ and I was like, ‘Who are these people?’.”
David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, wrote yesterday to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, seeking clarification of the role of the Chinese officials. Mr Davis asked: “Who in the British Government authorised their presence and what checks were made as to their background?”
He added: “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.”
The security men entered Britain on visitors’ visas but the Home Office would not reveal whether they had disclosed on the application form for whom they worked.
Less than a year ago these mysterious “men in blue” were elite students from China’s Armed Police Academy and were selected amid great fanfare to form the grandly titled Sacred Flame Protection Unit.
In China, tens of thousands of their paramilitary colleagues have been deployed across Tibetan areas to restore order during riots, even opening fire when the antiChinese demonstrations have threatened to run out of control again.