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Malaysian cops detain family protesting torch

A crowd of Chinese onlookers heckled and hit a Japanese family with inflated plastic batons Monday after the three unfurled a Tibetan flag before the start of the Malaysian leg of the Olympic torch relay.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Olympic flame was carried through blistering sun, torrential rain and isolated protests in Malaysia on Monday, completing another segment of its global relay that has become a magnet for demonstrations against China.

A Japanese man, his sister and her 5-year-old son were heckled and roughed up by Chinese nationals when they unfurled a Tibetan flag before the start of the heavily guarded relay in Kuala Lumpur.

Police detained the Japanese but released them without charges after about six hours. The Chinese were not detained.

At one point in the relay, a Western man wearing a T-shirt reading “Beijing Torches Human Rights” rushed forward shouting “Shame, shame, shame.” He was hustled away by police but not arrested. A British woman wearing a “Free Tibet” T-shirt and a foreign Buddhist monk were also detained and later released.

Criticism of China’s human rights record has turned the Olympic torch run ahead of the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Olympics into one of the most contentious in recent history.

Protests dogged the relay during its stops in Ancient Olympia, Greece, Paris, London and San Francisco, with demonstrators protesting China’s crackdown on anti-government riots in Tibet.

Security concerns prompted authorities in Indonesia, Australia and Japan — the torch’s upcoming stops — to change or shorten their routes.

About 1,000 police guarded the Kuala Lumpur route. The only serious incident in the 10-mile run occurred before it began and involved the Japanese family, whom hundreds of Chinese nationals confronted at Independence Square, the relay’s start.

Some Chinese hit the Japanese with inflated plastic batons that were intended for banging together in noisy celebration. Some of the Chinese shouted “Taiwan and Tibet belong to China” during the melee, but no one was hurt.

The Chinese — many wearing red — carried their country’s flag and waved banners that read: “The torch will spread around the world,” and “No one can split China.”

Police Chief Muhammad Sabtu Osman said the Japanese unfurled a Tibetan flag and a banner that read “Free Tibet” and were taken to a police station “only for documentation.” They told reporters they were residents of Malaysia, making no further comments.

Imran Jaafar, the president of the Olympic Council of Malaysia, was the first of 80 runners, accompanied by policemen and motorcycles.

As the relay progressed, the city was lashed by a torrential downpour. Still, the torchbearers plodded through the puddles, accompanied by Chinese security in blue and white tracksuits.

The flame ended at the Petronas Twin Towers.

Its next stop is Jakarta, Indonesia, where a shortened, invitation-only relay is to take place Tuesday outside a sports stadium. Members of the public are barred from attending.

Hours before the Jakarta relay began, police detained five people, including a Dutch national, and seized flags of pro-Tibet activists during a rowdy demonstration.

About 100 other demonstrators were allowed to rally at the gate of the main sports stadium in the capital, Jakarta where the relay was to be held. But officers seized flags and banners they had strung up on the gate.

In Australia, where the relay is scheduled to go through the capital Canberra on Thursday, a social justice advocate chosen as a torchbearer said Tuesday she was pulling out because of concerns over China’s human rights record.

“I hope it doesn’t send any particular message to Australia’s athletes,” Lin Hatfield-Dodds said. “I hope that it sends a message to the world at large that human rights matter.”

Hatfield-Dodds was chosen for the relay because she was named Australian of the Year in her territory for her work with poor and disadvantaged Australians.