CANBERRA, Australia – Chinese guards traveling with the Olympic torch could face arrest if they lay hands on any protesters during its visit to Australia's capital next week, an official said Wednesday.
Ted Quinlan, chairman of the Canberra relay task force, said the so-called torch attendants will have no responsibility for security.
"The answer is no they won't and, in fact, they could be subject to arrest in fact if they laid a hand on somebody," Quinlan told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Security around the torch has become a hot-button issue since anti-China protesters began targeting the Olympic symbol, causing chaos along the relay legs in London and Paris and forcing organizers in other places to change the route and beef up protection measures.
Track-suited Chinese officials recruited from paramilitary forces have been accompanying the flame along the relay. The guards, member of the Chinese paramilitary police, were criticized for heavy-handed tactics in London and Paris.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland said security in Canberra will be the responsibility of the Australian Federal Police.
"The only role that they — the Chinese officials — will play will be to light the torch should it be extinguished," McClelland said.
Australian police have been given tough new powers for the relay on April 24. They will be authorized to stop and search people along the relay route and ban them from carrying "prohibited items" such as "balls, eggs, paint bombs and any similar item that is likely to be used as a projectile."
Jon Stanhope, chief minister for Australian Capital Territory where Canberra is located, said police had asked for the increased powers.
"The police powers provide, just for this day, enhanced powers of search and they do prohibit the taking into a designated area certain offensive weapons and certain materials," Stanhope said.
The torch relay, which began March 24 in Greece, has been a rallying point for critics of China's policies in Tibet and Darfur. Protesters disrupted stops in London, Paris and San Francisco, helping make the games the most contentious in years.