Criticism of China has sparked protests in Greece, Paris, London and San Francisco during the flame's global tour, prompting officials to boost security and shorten the torch relay in India, Malaysia and Indonesia.

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 symbolise "good will for all mankind".

A group of four people waved Chinese flags outside the gate of the base, with no sign of protesters.

Security measures

Metre-high fences were put up along the route through the Australian capital, Canberra, where 80 runners will carry the torch on Thursday.

Australian organisers have dropped plans to run the torch past the Chinese embassy, near Australia's national parliament, fearing the embassy could become a flashpoint for protests.

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The torch will instead thread along a 10-mile route that passes Parliament House, within 200 yards of the embassy.

Hundreds of police will guard the torch to prevent the type of interruptions that have marked the relay in other cities across the globe.

Phelan said three blue-clad Chinese "flame attendants" whose official role has been much-debated, would be near the torch but would have no official security role.

He said: "They will not be performing any security function whatsoever ... All security in relation to the torch will be provided by AFP [Australian Federal Police] officers on the ground.

"Should the flame be under any sort of stress, or threat, we will be the ones who will secure that flame and then make sure it is delivered properly back to the torch attendants who have final custody of it."

Protests

In Sydney on Wednesday, police stopped two people from unfurling a banner on the city's landmark Sydney Harbour Bridge, which demanded freedom for Tibet from Chinese rule.

Four people waved Chinese flags at the air
base to celebrate the torch's arrival [AFP]
Pro-Tibet demonstrators beamed laser signs onto the iconic bridge in support of Tibet.

Meanwhile in Nepal, authorities forced a mountain climber with a "Free Tibet" banner in his bags off Mount Everest, which Chinese climbers will ascend next month carrying the Olympic torch.

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.

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 on Thursday, said the protests "shouldn't be centred around a specific event".

Candlelight vigil

Simon Bradshaw, campaign co-ordinator of the Australia Tibet Council, expected about 500 supporters for what he said would be peaceful protests in Canberra. Events would start with an evening candlelight vigil outside the Chinese embassy.

A Tibetan dramatises human rights abuses at a
vigil outside the Chinese embassy  [AFP]
"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 said.

Media reports have suggested that the Chinese embassy have hired 20 buses to bring supporters from Sydney and Melbourne - an eight-hour drive from Canberra - to counter the protesters.

About 4,000 Chinese students are expected in the capital to support the torch relay.

Kevan Gosper, an International Olympic Committee spokesman, said: "We're in a democratic country. If people want to protest, that's a matter for them, as long as they do it peacefully."

Aborigine Bunja Smith, who presented Chinese torch officials in Canberra with a traditional wooden message stick inscribed with the word "peace", said Australia's Aborigines understood the need for protest.

"We are a people who have been repressed, but we ask the protesters to keep it a protest and not violent," he said.

The chaotic scenes and perceived biased Western media coverage of the Tibet riots and the torch disruptions have sparked an outpouring of patriotic fervour among Chinese in and outside China.

Many Chinese have sent thousands of national flags overseas to support the troubled torch relay ahead of the Olympics, state media said.

Qu Yingpu, spokesman for the Beijing Games Organising Committee, when asked if the relay had so far been a success, said: "Definitely. Like everything else, we have ups and downs, but we are quite easy with that."