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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

S.F. wrangles over Olympic torch appearance

April 3, 2008

The impending arrival has caused friction between residents who want to
support China's rising economic and political power and human rights
activists who want to embarrass the superpower.


By John M. Glionna
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
April 2, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO -- — The Olympic torch relay for the Beijing 2008 Games is
set to make its only North American appearance here next week, but this
politically charged city is still squabbling over whether to roll out or
roll up the red carpet.

One supervisor accused Mayor Gavin Newsom of trying to keep the relay
route a secret to stymie critics of China's human rights record.
Advocates for Tibet, Darfur and the religious sect Falun Gong are among
those who plan to protest the April 9 event, but rumors are flying that
police will stop them from unfurling banners or even holding up signs.
Newsom denies it.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors took a stand that seemed anything
but welcoming, voting 8 to 3 for a resolution to greet the torch "with
alarm and protest." The board shelved a competing resolution to welcome
"in the true spirit of the Olympics" the Beijing torch and two others
that arrive here next week -- a world human rights torch and a Tibetan
freedom torch.

In introducing his successful resolution, Supervisor Chris Daly cited
China's 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square as well as its repression of
the press and religious groups.

"These may seem a bit out of reach for San Francisco supervisors. But
this torch is coming to our city," he said to an ovation from a packed
crowd that included robed monks and those holding up letters that
spelled out "Expose Beijing." "And with it comes China's record and the
attention of the international press. The eyes of the world will be
watching San Francisco on April 9. China knows this."

Chinese officials are already displeased with the Bay Area's reception.
They cite an incendiary device recently thrown against the door of the
Chinese Consulate here. Consular officials say the board's theatrics
haven't helped.

"If this resolution passes, it will hurt the Chinese people," consulate
spokesman Defa Tong said before Tuesday's vote. "What they are doing is
an insult to the torch relay."

By contrast, Pasadena's City Council pointedly rejected activists' calls
to condemn China's human rights record before this year's Rose Parade,
which featured a float celebrating the Beijing Olympics.

In San Francisco, a city that is one-third Chinese American, the torch's
impending arrival has caused friction between residents who say they
want to support China's rising economic and political power and human
rights activists who want to embarrass the superpower. The activists see
the lead-up to the Olympics as the best time to do so.

Protesters reject claims that they are wrongly mixing sports and
politics. Although they vow to be nonviolent, they promise to line the
six-mile relay route with banners and placards as the torch -- handled
by about 80 volunteers -- passes along the city's waterfront Embarcadero.

China's violent response to recent protests in Tibet has sparked
widespread condemnation.

And Beijing's close ties to Sudan have drawn the criticism of activists
seeking to end the bloodshed in the African nation's Darfur region.

"China is putting itself out there as a citizen of the world qualified
to hold an Olympics, and has a duty as an international superpower to
take responsibility and help end genocide in Darfur," said Martina Knee,
spokeswoman for the Darfur Coalition. "This is an opportunity for
American activists to give a strong message in person they otherwise
could never give, especially in China."

Protesters who want Newsom to take a hard-line stand against China say
they have been ignored.

"The mayor refuses to talk to us. We chased him down and asked why he
didn't read our letters," said Nordup Jamyang, vice president of the
Tibetan Assn. of Northern California. "He said he had 700 letters to
read. He didn't have time."

Newsom said: "People have the right to protest, but they don't have the
right to deny the torch to come here.They're losing sight of what the
Olympics are all about."

Former Mayor Willie Brown, who has worked with Olympic officials to
raise money for the relay, said that if protesters "have a problem with
China, they ought to criticize something Chinese. The Olympics is not
Chinese. The Olympics is worldwide."

Newsom, who made the relay route public Tuesday, said he had worked hard
to ensure that San Francisco gets the best exposure from the event. He
wanted the torch to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, venture into the
harbor aboard a boat and ride a cable car -- but those suggestions were
overruled by Olympic officials.

The mayor criticized Tuesday's vote by supervisors.

"This is par for the course in San Francisco," he said. "You could have
written this script beforehand. I have the next chapters, and I'd be
surprised if I was wrong. It's just some people's way to say, 'Mr.
Mayor, condemn China and the torch and then host an event where everyone
is happy.' That's not going to happen."

Rose Pak, an activist with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, has stepped
in to help the Chinese Consulate deal with the dispute: "Talk about
sleeping giants; this thing could turn into a free-for-all."

She said many elderly Chinese and families will be scared off by the
protests, which are expected to draw South African Archbishop Desmond
Tutu and actor Richard Gere, a longtime activist for Tibet.

"On what moral ground does a country that's been involved in the slave
trade in Africa and that drummed up false charges to invade Iraq shake
its finger and lecture China?" she asked. "They're turning this whole
thing into something ugly. Chinese people thought they had a moment to
be proud. Now they'll stay away, bewildered."

john.glionna@latimes.com
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