CANBERRA, Australia – The Olympic flame arrived in Australia on Wednesday for the next leg of the torch relay and was immediately whisked away to a secret location to avoid anti-China protesters.
Meanwhile in Nepal, authorities forced a mountain climber with a "Free Tibet" banner in his bags off Mount Everest, which Chinese climbers carrying the Olympic torch plan to ascend next month.
Criticism of China's human rights record has turned the torch relay into one of the most contentious in recent history. Anti-Chinese protests have dogged stops in Greece, Paris, London and San Francisco. Many countries, including Australia, have responded by modifying routes and boosting security.
Yard-high fences were being erected along the route through the Australian capital, Canberra, where 80 runners will carry the torch on Thursday. The torch will thread along a 10-mile route that passes Parliament House and within 200 yards of the Chinese Embassy.
Hundreds of police will guard the torch to prevent the type of interruptions that have marked the relay in other cities in the flame's global journey to the Beijing Olympics in August.
The flame arrived at an air base in Canberra from Indonesia and was greeted by government and Olympic officials and Aboriginal elder Agnes Shea, who said she hoped the torch's stay would symbolize "good will for all mankind."
A group of four people waved Chinese flags outside the gate of the base; there was no sign of protesters.
Officials said the flame's location was being kept secret between its arrival and the relay Thursday because of the threat of protests.
"I don't know, and I don't want to know," Australian relay organizer Ted Quinlan told reporters. "Originally, it was going to a hotel but there's a distinct possibility it's going to go to the embassy."
The climber on Mount Everest, whose identity has not been released, was caught with the banner at Everest's base camp, said mountaineering officials in Nepal's capital, Katmandu. The officials did not want to be named because they are not authorized to speak to reporters.
The climber is the first to be stopped by soldiers and policemen stationed on the Nepalese side of the world's highest mountain to prevent anti-China protests during the planned torch run to the summit of the world's tallest peak in the first days of May.
The officials said they were awaiting additional details due to communication problems.
There were small protests Wednesday in Australia.
In Sydney, activists unfurled a huge banner over a prominent billboard for Coca-Cola — an Olympic sponsor — that urged China to open talks with Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama. Police said they detained four people for questioning.
Earlier in the city, police stopped two people on the Sydney Harbor Bridge from hanging a banner demanding freedom for Tibet from Chinese rule. They were fined $95.
In Canberra, about 150 pro-Tibet supporters attended a vigil Wednesday evening outside China's embassy, spelling out "Free Tibet" with candles.
Police in Canberra sought to end lingering confusion about the role of Chinese security agents in the relay. Police chief Mike Phelan said three blue-clad Chinese "flame attendants" will always be near the torch but will have no official security role.
Chinese ambassador to Australia Zhang Junsai told Channel Nine television news Tuesday that Chinese security officials still may intervene, saying: "If the flame is attacked I believe they will use their body."
However, Australian officials said Wednesday that all security would rest with them. "I don't know if I can be any clearer than that," Phelan said. The officials have no special powers of arrest or immunity from prosecution if they were to intervene during the relay, he said.
One torchbearer withdrew from the relay earlier this week, saying the symbolism of the relay had changed after China's Tibet crackdown last month.
Other torchbearers said the Olympics were the wrong place to make political protests. Ian Thorpe, a five-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer who will carry the torch Thursday, said the protests "shouldn't be centered around a specific event."
Pro-Tibetan and pro-Chinese demonstrations were expected Thursday. Both sides say they want the event to be peaceful.
Simon Bradshaw, campaign coordinator of the Australia Tibet Council, said he expected about 500 supporters for what he said would be peaceful protests in Canberra.
"This is not an attempt to mar the Olympics, and it's certainly not an attack on the Chinese people. It's a message of support for Tibet," Bradshaw told The Associated Press.
About 4,000 Chinese students are expected in the capital to support the torch relay.
At a news conference of relay officials that was dominated by questions about security, Qu Yingpu, a spokesman for the Beijing Games organizing committee traveling with the torch, conceded there had been some problems said it had been a success so far.
"Definitely," he told a news conference. "Like everything else, we have ups and downs, but we are quite easy with that."