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Anything But Peaceful, Wherever You Stand

Sydney Morning Herald

Friday April 25, 2008

Yuko Narushima

THERE will be three versions of events reported from the torch relay: one will champion the flame's safe passage through Canberra, another will relay festivities and the last will report the tension.

The stories are not necessarily contradictory. Depending on access, placement along the route and proximity to Tibetan groups, experiences of the event will differ but to say the relay passed through the capital peacefully would be a lie.

Among the protesters, antagonism was the main game. At Commonwealth Park, a Chinese man yelled at a young Tibetan girl to shut up. A Tibetan man told a Chinese Australian to "go home" because here we respected human rights. And a flustered woman at Reconciliation Point yelled at two men behind her standing silently with a flag to "please get off her".

As the crowd crossed Commonwealth Bridge to the finish point, the two pedestrian walkways divided into streams on opposite sides of the bridge - red for China, blue for Tibet.

It was intimidating to look into the screaming faces of Chinese supporters who held flags out of passing car windows and screamed "One China" to Tibetans calling out to them that Hu Jintao was a liar.

As reporters plucked protesters from crowds for interview, the clear division police worked hard to maintain between camps, blurred. The subject would be circled and the yelling would start again. This cycle was repeated over and again.

I thought I would be crushed when two mobs closed in on one another at Commonwealth Park. One side chanted "Free Tibet" while the other side yelled: "No Way". The cries rose in pitch, pace and volume until cheering erupted among the Chinese group overpowered them by sheer numbers.

It was tempting to tell a Tibetan protester not to be so provocative as he danced up to angry Chinese, slowing down and going right up close to them when he sensed he was getting under their skin.

The performance element also came into play. One Chinese woman from Melbourne, Fair Shen, went from being a smiling supporter to a crying mess in minutes. When photographers began snapping at her puffy-eyed state, more media moved in. And as the cameras rolled, the 22-year-old wiped tears and mascara from her cheeks and spoke of her disappointment.

"Our government would never do anything to hurt Tibet people," she said between sobs. "If you have never been to Tibet, please stop media distortion."

In another instance, a man spoke to camera about alleged human rights abuses. Though he was Tibetan, he was surrounded by red flags. They dropped down behind him as fast as a cardboard backdrop would on a filmset. A woman behind the flags giggled and squealed "liar" as he spoke.

Already the official Beijing Games website is displaying smiling photos of the crowd. The cameras will roll footage taken by rights holders to the Games and the pro-Chinese will continue to cry "media distortion" as they did to western media at the rally.

Let the Games begin.

© 2008 Sydney Morning Herald

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