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Olympic Torch Relay in Paris Disrupted; Flame on Bus (Update5)

April 8, 2008

By Gregory Viscusi

April 7, 2008 (Bloomberg) -- The passage of the Olympic flame through
Paris was repeatedly disrupted by pro-Tibetan protesters, leading police
to abandon relay runners and take the torch to its destination by bus.

Three hours after the start, the torch had covered less than half of
what was supposed to be a four-and-a-half hour route. At that point, the
torch was put on a bus and escorted to the headquarters of the French
Olympic Committee. The relay was also disrupted in London yesterday, and
protests are planned for its next stop in San Francisco.

The torch's journey across Paris on its way to the Beijing games started
on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower with Stephane Diagana, the 1997
400-meter world champion hurdler, running down the stairs to the Seine

A few hundred meters from the tower, the torch was placed aboard a bus
for the first time as protesters against China's crackdown in Tibet
blocked its path. The incident repeated itself throughout the start of
the flame's 28-kilometer (18- mile) run through the French capital. The
flame was extinguished and re-lit at least once, police said.

French television stations showed demonstrators being arrested along the
route. One protester tried to approach the flame with a fire
extinguisher. Police said they didn't yet have a total number for arrests.


At the Eiffel Tower, protesters unfurled a black flag with the five
rings of the Olympic symbol replaced by handcuffs. Three of them
manacled themselves to the structure.

The Paris leg of the relay was accompanied by 48 police cars, 65
motorcycles, 100 policemen on roller blades, and 100 jogging firemen.

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.

Police arrested 37 people during yesterday's demonstrations in London.
One protester tried to put out the torch with an 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.

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 holds the European Union's rotating presidency for the
second half of this year, making Sarkozy the EU's leading statesman
during that time.

`Free Tibet'

At the Eiffel Tower, police kept about 100 protesters chanting ``Free
Tibet'' away from about 100 Chinese waving Chinese and American flags.
The police forcibly took some banners away, and prevented demonstrators
leaving the scene until the pro-China crowd had had time to disperse.

``Ever since Sarkozy became emperor the police have been omnipotent,''
said Jean Dafurriela, a 53-year-old insurance company worker from near
Toulouse, who came to protest. ``The police were blocking half the
streets to get here. The games should never have been given to China.''

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

City Hall Banner

Paris City Hall, which was to be on the route, hung a banner saying
``Paris Defends Human Rights Throughout the World.'' The stop at the
town hall was canceled as the relay ran behind schedule.

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.

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.

San Francisco Leg

The U.S. State Department is working with San Francisco officials on
logistics and security for the torch's run through the city, State
Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

``Our diplomatic security people are working with local police officials
as well as local city officials in San Francisco,'' McCormack told
reporters in Washington. ``We're doing everything we can to be
supportive of that.''

The flame is scheduled to arrive in Hong Kong on May 2 and mainland
China two days later. It 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, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, 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.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gregory Viscusi in Paris at
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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