Protesters warming up as Olympic flame arrives in U.S.
From CNN – The Olympic flame arrived in San Francisco early Tuesday and was being kept in an undisclosed location before continuing an international torch relay that has been marked by passionate protests.
Wednesday’s run through San Francisco is the only U.S. appearance for the flame, wrapping up the first week of a 23-city global tour. The flame will return to China in May to begin a relay through the host nation, ending in Beijing with the August 8 opening of the Olympic Games.
Earlier stops in London, England, and Paris, France, have produced large demonstrations against China’s human rights record. Some protesters frantically tried to snuff out the torch’s flame, and dozens were arrested.
One of the San Francisco torchbearers has dropped out of Wednesday’s relay because of fears of protests, a torch relay spokesman told CNN.
David Perry, spokesman for the San Francisco Olympic Torch Relay, said he did not want to release the name of the person.
“I understand anyone that might feel that they don’t want to expose themselves to something more than protest,” Perry said.
Beijing organizers have said the monthlong international relay will not be stopped despite the protests, but some International Olympic Committee members have suggested an early end should be considered.
The IOC’s executive board will discuss the torch relay “in general” on Thursday or Friday, but there is no proposal on the agenda to end the global tour early, IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said.
Organizers in China have said the monthlong international relay would not be stopped despite the protests, but some IOC members have suggested an early end should be considered.
On Monday three protesters scaled San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and raised a large banner, a likely precursor to larger protests on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Those who climbed the cables from which the bridge’s deck is suspended were members of Students for a Free Tibet, said group spokesman Tenzin Dasang. They unfurled a banner that read: “One World. One Dream. Free Tibet.”
The three climbers, along with four others on the ground, were charged with felony conspiracy and misdemeanor nuisance charges, said California Highway Patrol Officer Mary Ziegenbein. The climbers also were charged with misdemeanor trespassing.
Dasang said he has heard of many people planning to protest in San Francisco against China’s human rights record.
“We want it to be peaceful. But it will be large,” said Dasang, 22, during a phone interview in which he said he was near the bridge. “I heard from Tibetans that now live all over the U.S. and even abroad who are coming here.”
Ziegenbein said authorities are expecting more protests in the San Francisco area Tuesday. Authorities were stopping bridge pedestrians Tuesday and searching their bags, CNN affiliate KGO reported.
The Golden Gate Bridge protest came on the same day that thousands of protesters forced an abrupt halt to the flame’s passage through Paris after just 10 miles of the 17-mile planned route. Some stops were skipped and the flame was transferred from the torch back to the lamp to be carried on a bus several times to avoid protesters.
Protesters pierced the thick security bubble surrounding the torchbearers, at times getting their hands on the torch itself.
The Paris demonstrations were similar to those Sunday in London, where at least 36 people were arrested, according to London Metropolitan Police. Protesters cited China’s actions in Tibet, its policies on the Darfur region of Sudan and the lack of civil rights and freedoms for the Chinese people.
But other demonstrators, bearing Chinese flags, turned out in support of the Chinese government, and many others were spectators there just to see the torch.
An Olympic committee member suggested Monday that the public relations nightmare that has followed the Olympic flame on its way to the Summer Games in Beijing may make 2008 the last time such an ambitious global torch relay is attempted.
International Olympic Committee member Richard Kevan Gosper, who is also chairman of the IOC’s press committee, told reporters he was always opposed to a global tour for the flame.
“I’m a firm believer that we had the right template in the first place, that the torch simply should go from Olympia, Greece, to the host country,” Gosper said.
A visit to the official Beijing Olympics Web site, controlled by the Chinese organizers, gives little indication of any torch relay disruption. It characterizes the demonstrators as “a small number” of Tibetan separatists.
Liu Jingmin, vice president of the Beijing organizing committee, said the Olympic torch has been “warmly welcomed by the local people” in each city.
Liu said the organizers “are confident that the Beijing Olympics torch relay in overseas cities will be carried out successfully.”
China’s Foreign Ministry’s reaction Tuesday was more forceful.
“We express our strong condemnation to the deliberate disruption of the Olympic torch relay by Tibetan separatist forces regardless of the Olympic spirit and the law of Britain and France,” China spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.
“Their despicable activities tarnish the lofty Olympic spirit and challenge all the people loving the Olympic Games around the world.”