NEWS

San Francisco Readies Itself for Olympic Torch Relay Tomorrow

By Matthew Harwood

Worried the city's leg of the Olympic torch relay will turn violent as it did this week in London and Paris, San Francisco officials may divert the route at-will to avoid protesters critical of China's human rights record, especially in Tibet.

Officials fear protests and violence could break out like they did in Paris yesterday. "Thousands of rowdy demonstrators," in the words of The Washington Post, "forced cancellation of the last leg of the Olympic torch ceremony ... with repeated attacks on the procession." Attacks included protesters shooting foam from fire extinguishers in an attempt to put out the Olympic torch. The disruptions got so bad, police had to extinguish the torch and take it into protective custody.

In response, the International Olympic Committee has called a meeting for Friday to discuss whether the rest of the relay should be scuttled altogether. The (London) Times reports:

Jacques Rogge, the IOC President, says the organisation’s executive board will meet on Friday to debate whether to allow the torch to continue its 85,000-mile, 21-country journey.

Mr Rogge said this morning that he was “deeply saddened" by the violent protests in London and Paris, and concerned about tomorrow's torch relay in San Francisco.

Mayor Gavin Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle that the city could change the 6-mile route along the waterfront and Fisherman's Wharf even during the relay. The city's security approach will take into consideration the events in London and Paris, including the use of fire extinguishers, he said.

Even before the raucous protests in Europe on Sunday and Monday, the city had whittled down the torch's route from 8 miles to 6 miles and cut down the opening and closing ceremonies to a brisk 20 minutes each.

Activists told the Chronicle that they will engage in wide-spread acts of civil disobedience during the torch relay tomorrow afternoon. The president of the Burmese American Democratic Alliance said his organization planned direct action, but other activists said they would not disrupt the actual torch relay.

According to the Associated Press:

U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth said in a statement the event was "an important moment for the city to show its character, hospitality and commitment to peace and tolerance."

"It must provide a proper forum for the peaceful expression of opinions and dissent. And it must safely and respectfully welcome the flame and honor the U.S. athletes and other participants who will carry the torch," Ueberroth said.

Despite the London and Paris protests, none of the 80 selected torch runners have backed out of decision to carry the torch. Torch-bearer Sister Patricia Rayburn, a 64-year-old Franciscan nun from Redwood City, told the Chronicle that she hopes the protesters understand that some of the runners share their sentiments and that they conduct their protests nonviolently.

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