Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Security tightened as San Francisco girds for protests along Olympic torch route

Security tightened as San Francisco girds for protests along Olympic torch route

About a thousand demonstrators gather on the eve of San Francisco Olympic torch run to denounce China human rights record on Tuesday, April 8, 2008, in San Francisco. (AP)

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Olympic torch's round-the-world trip is the longest
in Olympic history, and is meant to highlight China's rising economic and political
power. But on its sole North American stop, activists are also calling attention to
the Olympic host's human rights record.

As runners carry the torch on its six-mile (10-kilometer) route Wednesday,

they will compete not only with people protesting China's grip on Tibet and

its support for the governments of Myanmar and Sudan, but also with more

obscure activists. They include nudists calling for a return to the way the ancient

Greek games were played.

Local officials say they support the diversity of viewpoints,

but have heightened security following chaotic protests during

the torch's stops in London and Paris and a demonstration Monday

in which activists hung banners from the Golden Gate bridge.

"We are trying to accomplish two goals here. One is to protect the right

to free speech and the other is to ensure public safety, and here

in San Francisco we are good at both of those things," said Nathan Ballard,

a spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom.

The torch is scheduled to travel a route hugging San Francisco Bay,

but security concerns could prompt a last-minute change. Already,

one runner who planned to carry the torch dropped out because

of safety concerns, officials said.

The flame was whisked to a secret location shortly after its pre-dawn

arrival in San Francisco on Tuesday. It began its 85,000-mile

(136,800-kilometer) journey from Ancient Olympia in Greece

to Beijing on March 24, and was the focus of protests from the start.

On Tuesday, hundreds of activists carrying Tibetan flags gathered in

United Nations Plaza, a pedestrian area near City Hall, to denounce

China's policy toward Tibet and the recent crackdown on protesters there.

They then marched to the Chinese Consulate.

"This is not about us battling the torchbearers," Lhadom Tethong, executive

director of Students for a Free Tibet, told the crowd outside the consulate.

"This is about the Chinese government using the torch for political purposes.

And we're going to use it right back."

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