Olympic Torch Relay in Paris;

Olympic Torch Relay in Paris; Flame Put Out, AP Says

By Gregory Viscusi

April 7 (Bloomberg) -- The Olympic flame was carried from the first floor of the Eiffel Tower to cross Paris on its way to the Beijing games as police kept demonstrators planning to protest China's rights record well away. Officials interrupted the relay, extinguished the flame and put the torch aboard a bus, the Associated Press reported.

The first person to bear the torch on today's 28-kilometer (18-mile) run through the French capital was Stephane Diagana, the 1997 400-meter world champion hurdler. Four people were arrested amid the protests, Agence France-Presse said.

The Paris leg of the relay was accompanied by 48 police cars, 65 motorcycles, 100 policemen on roller blades, and 100 jogging firemen as French authorities tried to avert protests such as those that held up the flame's progress through London yesterday. No spectators will be allowed within 200 meters of the flame, Paris police said.

Robert Menard, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based rights group that disrupted the lighting of the Olympic flame in Greece on March 24, called the Paris security measures ``shameful.'' He called in a statement for protests that won't block the relay.

Paris City Hall, which is on the route, has hung a banner saying ``Paris Defends Human Rights Throughout the World.'' Only a handful of demonstrators gathered near the foot of the Eiffel Tower for the start of the relay.

China is facing international criticism for its crackdown in Tibet in response to last month's riots in the capital, Lhasa, and neighboring provinces, the most serious protests in 20 years.

Sarkozy's Stance

The U.S. and European Union said they won't boycott the August Olympics after French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised the issue last month.

The French President will monitor China's progress on rights before deciding whether to attend the Beijing opening ceremonies, his spokesman said. France will hold the European Union's rotating presidency for the second half of this year, making Sarkozy the EU's leading statesman during that time.

Police arrested 37 people during yesterday's demonstrations in London. One protester tried to put out the torch with a fire extinguisher and another attempted to grab it from Konnie Huq, a television personality who was one of the people carrying the flame. There were no injuries, London police said.

China views the demonstrations as contrary to the Olympic spirit because the torch belongs to the world, China's official Xinhua News Agency cited an unidentified spokesman for the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee as saying yesterday. Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, also condemned any use of violence during the relay, Agence France- Presse reported.

Longest Relay

The relay is planned to be the longest in Olympic history, covering 137,000 kilometers and 21 countries where it will be carried by 20,000 bearers. After Paris, the flame will be flown to San Francisco and then to Buenos Aires.

It is scheduled to arrive in Hong Kong on May 2 and mainland China two days later. The flame is due to pass through Tibet from June 19 to 21, when it will be taken to the summit of Mount Everest.

The Dalai Lama supports holding the Games in Beijing and called on Tibetans not to disrupt the event, according to a statement on his Web site.

China, which sent troops to Tibet in 1950 and annexed the Himalayan region a year later, accuses the Dalai Lama of trying to divide the country and has rejected his assurances he is seeking autonomy, not independence, for Tibet.

The Dalai Lama set up a government-in-exile in northern India when he fled Tibet after a failed uprising in 1959.

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