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Torch relay begins in San Francisco

Latest update : 2008-04-09

Pro-Tibet supporters as well as the city's large Chinese community have taken to the streets of San Francisco as the Olympic Flame passes through the city.

San Francisco became a battleground Wednesday as its Chinese-American residents faced off against pro-Tibet protesters who hope to disrupt the progress of the Olympic torch as it makes its way through the city.

From the morning hours, demonstrators lined the streets along the torch's path, carrying signs with such slogans as "Tibet is part of China" and "Shame on China."


San Francisco police have already arrested one demonstrator. Xiao Tan, aged 32 and of Chinese origin, tried to unfurl a Tibetan flag. "I'm proud to be Chinese, but I don't like what's happening in Tibet," he told AFP.


City authorities are bracing for the kind of violence seen in London and Paris, when protesters angry at China’s treatment of Tibet succeeded in disrupting the torch’s progress.


San Francisco is the torch's only North American stop on the way to Beijing. The city has been known as a hotbed of political dissent since the 1960s, and is also home to the largest Chinese-American community in the United States. Around one-third of San Francisco’s 800,000 residents are of Chinese origin.

Communities mobilise to meet the Flame

An ad hoc group of pro-Tibetan organizations, known as Team Tibet, is mobilizing supporters from across the United States in an attempt to interrupt the flame’s progress. “Of course we will try to disrupt the torch run. But we won’t try to harm or put out the flame,” said Tenzin Tsephel, a member of the Tibetan Association of Northern California (TANC), one of the organizing groups.

However, leaders of the Chinese-American business community are also mobilizing to show support for China and its hosting of the Olympic Games. “There’s a time for everything: a time for the Olympic Flame and a time for politics,” said Siu Yuen Chung, who represents more than 1000 businesses in Chinatown. Echoing the official line in Beijing, Chung rejoiced in the event, but regrets that certain parties are exploiting the flame for political ends.

The Chinese American Association of Commerce is distributing more than 10 000 flags of China, the US, and the Olympic logo to all the Chinese-Americans who came from all over the US to celebrate the passage of the Olympic Flame.

The torch’s official route takes it from near the city’s baseball stadium along its famous waterfront. Mayor Gavin Newsom said Tuesday its route would remain flexible during the course of the day. Officials earlier said the torch would not pass through San Francisco’s Chinatown district because of security concerns.

Suspicion between local Chinese and out-of-town protesters

While the anti-Chinese protesters are united in their criticism of China’s Tibet policies, they are divided over tactics, reports FRANCE 24’s Gallagher Fenwick. At a rally on Tuesday, “half of the protesters told me they’d have a non-violent presence on Wednesday, and half said they would do anything they can to disrupt the torch’s progress – they’d use all means necessary,” Fenwick said.

Fenwick also reports that many local Chinese in San Francisco are hostile to the protesters, saying they are proud that the torch is coming to their city and resentful that the protesters are stealing the limelight from China’s Olympic moment.

For his part, Tenzin is not confident about getting local support, saying, “The younger generations are more inclined to support the torch, so they won’t get in trouble when they go back to China. We also believe that Chinese people have been paid to support the torch along its way here, but we have no proof”.



Date created : 2008-04-09