San Francisco gets ready for the Olympic flame

San Francisco gets ready for the Olympic flame

Anyone who's been watching the news knows of the chaos surrounding the Olympic flame's visit to Paris and London. The flame was doused several times in Paris and there were concerns about the blue-suited men following around the torch. Now it's San Francisco's turn. The California city is the only North American stop of the relay. Check back here for more updates.

Update 4:10 p.m.: According to news sources the relay is supposed to start at 4:00 p.m. but nothing so far. CBC via AP is reporting that the route will be shortened significantly. CNN is also reporting that at least three of the runners have dropped out of the relay citing safety worries.

Update 4:15 p.m.: The first runners are getting ready to start their run. Local blog SFist has updates via Twitter on the situation on the ground. There are apparently a few minor shouting matches between pro-Tibet and pro-Chinese protesters. CNN is reporting that route has been shortened from eight to six miles.

Update 4:20 p.m.: They're lighting the flame! Let the mayhem begin. Flickr users Dave Schumaker has photos from the relay route.

The scene at the start of the relay looks pretty well choreographed, lots of Chinese flags (not a Tibet one in sight), and supporters.

Update 4:25 p.m.: Not sure where they're going BUT it looks like they're heading into a warehouse to join up with the motorcade.

Update 4:30 p.m.: SFist has unconfirmed rumours that people may have been hurt, run over by the Olympic torch bus. But most reports are indicating that it's been peaceful thus far. The route is still unclear. CNN and the SF Chronicle are going to use a boat to ferry the runner, torch and flame to another leg of the relay. This will of course dodge some of the protests BUT will probably annoy the people that have been waiting for hours.

Update 4:35 p.m.: Instead of photos and footage of happy torchbearers waving to crowds, we're getting images of a boat in front of a waterfront warehouse. Not exactly what we'd call uplifting. P.R. disaster. Not surprisingly, protesters are using cellphones and the web to figure out where the police and the torch is.

Update 4:40 p.m.: Chronice reporters Philip Matier and Andrew Ross have this nice little piece on the level of security around the runners.

Police plan to shield the runners with no fewer than three layers of protection - cops on foot jogging at their side, cops on bicycles and cops on motorcycles - all to prevent an embarrassing replay of the attempted torch grabs in Paris and London earlier this week.

Department insiders also say the cops will even have boats stationed along the waterfront route in case things get really out of hand.

"The idea is if there is some kind of mass sit-in that blocks the road, then they can just put the torch on a boat and move around it," said one City Hall source, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to discuss security plans.

Update 4:45 p.m.: It's like trying to dodging paparazzi, a convoy has left the warehouse from the back door.

Wolf Blitzer: Ted, wouldn't this defeat the purpose of the relay. Aren't they supposed to be running with it and not driving

Update 4:50 p.m.: It's extremely slow BUT Students for a Free Tibet is updating the torch run. There are plenty of photos and even a Google map of incidents related to the torch relay. On the flip side, the SF police have a site updating info on the torch.... that's rather minimalist.

A good question is who's going to get blamed for today's foul-up? Is the mayor of San Francisco going to get blamed for not being able to keep the torch on the ground? Or can we blame Chinese organizers for not canceling the relay or trying to avoid any protest flare ups?

Update 4:55 p.m.: CNN is showing footage of a few runners. Where are the men in blue? There are a few police officers on bikes and motorcycles.

Update 5:00 p.m.: Students for a Free Tibet's site is down and has been for several minutes now. It's probably just the sheer amount of traffic bringing down the site's servers but we can't help but wonder whether it's a hacker attack?

Update 5:05 p.m.: Only presidents get this kind of security. The torchbearer is being guarded by about a dozen Chinese guards in blue tracksuits, and then flanked by a line of police on motorcycles. The whole convoy is being led by an amphibious vehicle.

Update 5:10 p.m.: And there's the hand-off. Torchbearers are passing off the flame. It looks like it's going off without a hitch.

Update 5:15 p.m.: According to CNN the torch has gone off its publicized route, which might explain why the footage is showing relatively empty streets.

Update 5:20 p.m.: If they run the Olympic Torch and there's no one there to witness it does it make a sound? SFist has got some angry comments from San Franciscans on the torch switcheroo. To be practical, all the changes to the route might make commuting hell today in the Bay Area.

Update 5:25 p.m.: CNN is speculating that the torch might not even be heading to the Justin Herman Plaza, where it was originally supposed to end up. Previous footage showed that the scene at the plaza was quite peaceful and the crowd was largely pro-Chinese. They'll likely be very disappointed if it doesn't end up there.

Update 5:30 p.m.: Just a reminder SFIst has updates via Twitter. It looks like the window for protests disrupting the relay is closing.

Update 5:35 p.m.: It looks like a group of protesters have caught up to torch. The police have kept them away. The torch convoy has slowed down, a number of protesters are waving pro-Tibet flags but making no other moves towards the torchbearer.

Update 5:40 p.m.: Canwest News Service is reporting that the route was changed because protesters had blocked the original route.

The Olympic torch has been blocked from its planned route through San Francisco by a massive crowd of protesters.

The sudden change to the route, which had already been shortened, was prompted by a breakdown in security. The torch was put on a police bus.

Crowds have crossed police barricades, meaning that a key road of the torch route became blocked as pro-China and anti-China crowds took over the street.

The torch was put inside a police bus and the motorcade headed for an unknown destination.

SFist has unconfirmed reports that police may have used pepper spray against protesters. A city flack is trying to spin today's events by saying that people should be disappointed by protesters that turned violent.

Update 5:45 p.m.: Photos have started moving on the news wires of the torch relay. Here are a few from earlier in the afternoon.

Update 5:45 p.m.: CNN is reporting that the torch will not end up anywhere near the proposed end of the route and is being carried by car for the last leg of the route.

At the end of day, it's hard to call this anything but a PR disaster. No protesters were able to directly disrupt the relay (like in Paris). But instead of memorable photos of cheering crowds and grinning runners we were treated to shots of a last-minute switch of the relay route and San Francisco police surrounding the torch. It'll be interesting to see how the Chinese government and Olympic organizers will treat today's events. It's unlikely that the torch will get a warm welcome in Buenos Aires, where it's headed next

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