PARIS (AFP) — Pro-Tibet activists disrupted the Paris relay of the Beijing Olympic torch Monday, clashing with police and three times forcing torchbearers to extinguish the flame and take refuge on a bus.
French athlete Stephane Diagana had carried the torch just 200 metres (yards) from the start of the relay at the Eiffel Tower when scuffles broke out between police and campaigners protesting China's crackdown in Tibet.
Police had to haul men and women from the road as they tried to lie in the flame's path, with a man in a wheelchair knocked over in the chaos.
The flame was repeatedly taken on and off a bus -- forcing it to be extinguished and relit for safety reasons -- as it made its way along the 28-kilometre (18-mile) route protected by a phalanx of motorcycle outriders, jogging firemen, and police on rollerblades.
At one point, a group of protestors tried to grab and douse the flame -- prevented only by a rapid police intervention.
At least five people were arrested, including a local politician wielding a fire extinguisher, two pro-Tibet campaigners and two media rights activists who tried to vault over the security cordon protecting the flame.
Across the River Seine on Human Rights Square, hundreds of pro-Tibetans booed and jeered as the torch set off on its relay.
They carried banners with messages such as "Tiananmen 1989 - Lhasa 2008" and "For a bloody world welcome to the Olympics made in China."
Three activists managed to climb up inside the Eiffel Tower and unfurl a black flag with the five Olympic rings turned into handcuffs. They then chained themselves to the monument, 75 metres (250 feet) off the ground.
Media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) later hung the same flag from a building on the Champs-Elysees as the torchbearers made their way up the famous avenue.
The incidents came a day after rowdy protests on the torch's London leg, where its progress was disrupted several times and where it also had to be briefly put on a bus for security.
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge called Monday on China to peacefully end unrest in Tibet, piling further pressure on the nation's communist rulers ahead of the Beijing Games in August.
"Violence for whatever reason is not compatible with the values of the torch relay or the Olympic Games," he said at a meeting of National Olympic Committee heads in Beijing.
Exiled Tibetan leaders say more than 150 people have been killed in the unrest which began on March 10, triggered by what Tibetans say has been nearly 60 years of repression under Chinese rule.
China insists its security forces have killed no one while trying to quell the protests. It says Tibetan "rioters" have killed 20 people.
A Chinese embassy advisor in Paris said the torch's relay would be a "great festival" and that any protests would come from a "tiny minority."
In China, the state-controlled CCTV's main evening news made no mention of the protests, running a stand-up report from a reporter in the French capital blandly discussing details of the planned relay route.
The Xinhua news agency later issued a dispatch in English saying the torch was extinguished twice "for safety reasons."
The leader of the Tibetan community in Paris called the day of protests a "great success."
"We are overjoyed," Thupten Gyatso told AFP, standing among hundreds of protestors opposite the Eiffel Tower. "We are making ourselves heard politically, thanks to the support of artists, politicians and intellectuals."
But the head of the French Olympics Committee condemned the protests as "highly regrettable".
"I think people should have let this flame through, that they could have held their protests to one side," Henri Serandour said in a statement.
From Paris the flame leaves for the Americas, with stops in San Francisco on Wednesday and Buenos Aires on Friday, on the latest leg of a worldwide tour from Greece to Beijing.
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