Chinese heckle Olympic torch run protesters in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia &

A crowd of Chinese onlookers heckled and hit a Japanese family with inflated plastic batons today after the three unfurled a Tibetan flag before the start of the Malaysian leg of the Olympic torch relay.

The family, comprising two adults and a boy, was detained by police, who also took a Buddhist monk and a British woman wearing a "Free-Tibet" T-shirt into custody. All five were later released.

Criticism of China's human rights record has turned August Beijing Olympics into one of the most contentious in recent history.

Protests have dogged the round-the-world 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.

Though the torch's most recent legs in South America, Africa and Asia have been relatively trouble-free, host countries have beefed up security in an effort to thwart possible disruptions.

About 1,000 police stood ready to guard the relay in Malaysia against protests. A Buddhist group held special prayers at a Kuala Lumpur temple for a trouble-free torch run and a peaceful Olympics.

The president of the Olympic Council of Malaysia, Imran Jaafar, set off with the torch, jogging a short distance before handing it to the next runner in the relay covering 10 miles through downtown Kuala Lumpur.

"I am very excited, very honored to be the first runner. The honor is not just for myself, but also for the country," Imran said.

A group of Chinese lion dancers and drummers heralded the run through a secure corridor. As the runners passed through Chinatown, hundreds of schoolchildren and other Chinese supporters cheered and waved small Malaysian flags.

The relay, which started in blistering sun, ended about four hours later in blinding rain at the iconic Petronas Twin Towers after passing through the hands of 80 runners.

Witnesses said the Japanese brother and sister and the woman's 5-year-old boy were heckled by Chinese bystanders during the confrontation at Independence Square where the relay began.

Scenes captured by a television cameraman showed some of the Chinese supporters striking the family members with plastic blow-up batons that they were carrying to celebrate the occasion.

Some shouted "Taiwan and Tibet belong to China" during the confrontation before police intervened and took the Japanese family away.

The supporters carried Chinese flags and waved banners that read: "The Torch will spread around the world," and "No one can split China."

Kuala Lumpur police chief Muhammad Sabtu Osman said the family was detained "only for documentation," and said he had no information that they were beaten by others in the crowd.

Muhammad Sabtu, the police chief, said the monk, whose nationality was not known, and the British women wearing a "Free Tibet" T-shirt were detained because they were not carrying their passports. Both were freed a few hours later, he said.

The torch's next scheduled stop is in Indonesia, where organizers said Monday the country will stage a shortened, invitation-only relay under heavy security to hinder any anti-China protests.

Organizing committee head Sumohadi Marsis said the steps were taken for Tuesday's relay after pressure from the Chinese Embassy.

The relay was originally scheduled to take place through the center of the capital, Jakarta, but will now mostly follow the road that circles the city's main sport stadium, he said.

Meanwhile in Japan, organizers said Saturday's torch relay in Nagano will start in a parking lot after a major Buddhist temple backed out of the event over security concerns and sympathy for Tibetans.

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