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In Paris, Olympic torch ignites protests

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The relay began with an iconic image of the torch held aloft by a French athlete with the Eiffel Tower in the background. But the scene was quickly superseded by French and Tibetan protesters who launched themselves at the torch procession. Images of them being pushed away by riot police were broadcast live during the day on international TV.

For the Chinese government, the highly choreographed Paris protest was the second straight public repudiation in the streets of a European capital, after pro-Tibet demonstrations in London on Sunday.

The question of whether or not to boycott the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games has been front-page news here since the Chinese crackdown in Tibet a month ago. Even the staid Le Figaro newspaper ran a supersized front-page headline Monday heralding "the flame of contention" in one-inch high letters.

Unlike in London, though, a range of French politicians and government officials rallied to the protests here.

The capital's Socialist mayor unfurled a giant banner over City Hall declaring "Paris supports human rights everywhere in the world." Most of the athletes carrying the flame wore badges with a similar, if more oblique, sentiment: "for a better world." And President Nicolas Sarkozy's outspoken human rights minister, Rama Yade, condemned what she called China's "colonization" of Tibet.

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