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San Francisco relay unites – in frustration

Latest update : 2008-04-15

The only US leg of the 2008 Olympic torch relay ended in rare harmony between China’s supporters and detractors as tight security and last-minute route revisions angered everyone.

The 2008 Olympic torch relay’s only North American stop ended amid tight security and confusion on the streets of San Francisco as the relay route was diverted at the last minute.


Crowds of pro-and anti-China demonstrators converged along the torch’s original path. But they were disappointed when the route was radically changed shortly after the relay began.


"We assessed the situation and felt that we could not secure the torch and protect the protesters and supporters to the degree that we wished," San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom told Reuters news service. "As a consequence we engaged in subsequent contingency planning that we felt would keep people safe."


City authorities were bracing for the kind of violence seen in London and Paris this week, when protesters angry at China’s human rights track record succeeded in disrupting the torch’s progress.


Hours before the scheduled relay in San Francisco, Chinese-American residents faced off against pro-Tibet protesters. The city is home to the largest Chinese-American community in the United States and many residents of Chinese origins were hostile to protesters demonstrating against China’s human rights record.


In the end, there were no major incidents during the San Francisco leg of the relay. But for crowds expecting to see the flame – to cheer or jeer the hosts of the 2008 Beijing Games - it was a disappointing experience.


“That is the irony of this relay,” said FRANCE 24’s Gallagher Fenwick, reporting from San Francisco. “In the end, this torch, through its secret path has ended up uniting people in a common sense of frustration.”


A mystery tour


Secrecy marked the San Francisco leg of the relay shortly after the opening ceremony, when the first runner, flanked by Chinese security officials in blue track suits, disappeared into a large waterfront warehouse.


A series of bewildering changes had crowds as well as the media scrambling to spot the flame.


“At one point, it was even taken to the other side of the city, far away from potential protesters,” said Fenwick. “The torch instead ended on the Presidio Park, very far from the original route where crowds were waiting.”


A planned closing ceremony on the city’s scenic waterfront was also scrapped.


Political pressure for a boycott mounts


The San Francisco relay came as political pressure for a boycott of the Olympic opening ceremony mounted within and outside the United States.


US presidential candidate Barack Obama said President George Bush should consider boycott the opening ceremony if China does not take steps to help stop genocide in Darfur and improve human rights in Tibet.


But Obama qualified that by saying that any decision should be made closer to the date of the Olympic Games in Beijing in August.


His remarks came shortly after the office of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that Brown would not attend the opening ceremony. But a spokeswoman for his office also added that he had never intended to do so, as he planned to attend the closing ceremony instead.


Bush, meanwhile, vowed in an interview to be broadcast Friday to press China on human rights at the Games but balked at calls for him to shun the opening ceremonies to protest the crackdown in Tibet.


On Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his country's participation in the event would be linked to China starting talks with exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama following a recent crackdown.




Date created : 2008-04-10