The Indonesian leg of the Olympic torch relay has passed without great incident. And it also passed without great public attention. 5,000 invited guests, including Indonesian and Chinese students, attended the ceremony in a stadium in the centre of the capital Jakarta. Uninvited guests -- especially human rights activists -- were kept outside of the stadium by a heavy security presence.
The atmosphere is likely to be tense right up until the opening of the Olympics in Beijing in August
Originally, the relay was supposed to pass through large stretches of the bustling Indonesian capital. However, at Beijing’s request, the route was cut short and the ceremony was confined to the Bung Karno Sports Complex in the city centre.
In the stadium, the flame was carried for about seven kilometres by about eighty torch bearers, who included the governor of Jakarta, the minister of tourism and the Chinese ambassador to Indonesia.
Security in and around the stadium was kept very tight by over 3,000 police and military officers, who had water cannons and dogs. Before the torch even arrived the police had dispersed about 150 anti-China activists and arrested eight, who were later released.
No Human Rights, no Olympics
But during the relay itself, the police allowed dozens of other protesters to rally at the stadium’s gate. They shouted pro-Tibet slogans and carried banners reading “No Human Rights, No Olympics”.
“We want to show the international community that we, the Indonesian people, have different opinions about China and that we don’t share the views of the Indonesian government,” Tri Agus Siswowihardjo, who helped coordinate the demonstrations, explained.
“We believe that China is using the Olympic Games as pure propaganda, not only to show off its economic prowess. We have to be critical.”
Sport and politics inseparable
He disagrees wholeheartedly with those who believe that the Olympic Games are a sporting event and have nothing to do with politics.
“The Olympics and politics belong together -- they are inseparable. Our ex-President Sukarno had a big stadium built in Jakarta but he used it for his sports festival GANEFO which had a political backdrop. It would be very naïve to separate sport and politics.”
The Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO) first took place in 1963, having been set up as a counter to the Olympic Games.
But they triggered a lot of controversy and the International Olympic Committee decreed that athletes attending GANEFO would be ineligible to participate in the Olympic Games. There was never a second edition of GANEFO.
Misnamed "Journey of Harmony"
The problems besieging this year’s Olympic torch relay -- the somewhat misnamed “Journey of Harmony” -- are proof that the Olympic Games, too, can trigger controversy and are far from exempt of criticism.
Until the flame arrives safely in Beijing, the Olympic Committee will be on knife-edge, as will the Chinese government.
The flame, which came to Indonesia from Malaysia, is next due to arrive in Australia -- Beijing has already called on supporters there to turn up en masse.