KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Malaysian police detained a Japanese family of three who unfurled a pro-Tibet banner just before the first runner took off with Olympic Torch Monday.
Witnesses said the adult couple and a boy were heckled by bystanders, who appeared to be Chinese, during the confrontation, which occurred at Independence Square where the 10-mile relay began.
About an hour later, the president of the Olympic Council of Malaysia, Imran Jaafar, set off with the torch, the first of 80 who will carry it through the capital.
Thousands of bystanders — many of them wearing red — were gathered to watch the send-off. Some carried Chinese flags and Chinese language banners that read: "The Torch will spread around the world," and "No one can split China."
The witnesses said some of the bystanders shouted "Taiwan and Tibet belong to China" when they saw the family revealing the pro-Tibet banner. The witnesses couldn't recall the exact wording on the banner because of the commotion. They all declined to be named, citing reluctance to be associated with a foreign media organization or involved in a police matter.
A police official at the scene said the family was "taken in for documentation." He did not give any details and spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information to the media.
Criticism of China's human rights record has turned the Olympics into one of the most contentious in recent history.
Protests have dogged the torch relay during its stops in Paris, London and San Francisco, with demonstrations over China's crackdown in Tibet where it forcefully put down anti-government riots.
Fear of further disruptions has triggered unprecedented security for the Malaysian leg. Some 1,000 policemen and commandos were deployed in along the route in Kuala Lumpur even though police have not received reports of any planned protests, said a police spokesman who declined to be named, citing protocol.
The flame arrived Sunday from Bangkok, where its relay was unmarred by demonstrations.