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As protesters gear up in San Francisco, IOC pledges to reassess torch relay

April 10, 2008

GEOFFREY YORK

With reports from James Christie in Toronto and Campbell Clark in Ottawa

The Globe and Mail
April 9, 2008

BEIJING -- Faced with chaotic protests and mounting discontent over
China's "thuggish" security tactics, the International Olympic Committee
is promising a full review of the controversial Olympic torch relay this
week.

The Olympic flame is to be carried through the streets of San Francisco
today, where activists are mobilizing for a fresh wave of demonstrations
against China for its human-rights abuses and its crackdown on Tibetan
protesters.

The torch relay is barely into the third week of its 137,000-kilometre
route, yet it has already suffered massive disruptions from angry
protesters in London and Paris. The relay in Paris was cut short on
Monday because of the fierce demonstrations, which forced the flame to
be extinguished several times along its route.

Athletes and officials are complaining bitterly about China's
heavy-handed security operation. "It is as if someone spat on my face,"
said David Douillet, a two-time Olympic judo champion, after he watched
a Chinese official extinguish the flame just as he was preparing to hand
it to another judo champion during the Paris relay.
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The Chinese security guards - a specially trained phalanx of
paramilitary police who surround the flame wherever it goes, shoving
protesters away - were "robots or watchdogs" in their behaviour, Mr.
Douillet said yesterday.

"They have trampled on the Olympic rings. They have trampled on the
athletes who carry the values of the Olympic Games. ... Given what
happened, the athletes are asking themselves one question: How will they
be treated in Beijing?"

A Chinese official had ordered a last-minute change in the torch's
route, scrapping a visit to the Paris town hall where protesters were
waiting.

In London, a top British official said the Chinese security guards were
"thugs" who behaved in a "horrible" way.

"They tried to push me out of the way three times," said Sebastian Coe,
a two-time Olympic gold medalist who heads the organizing committee for
the 2012 Olympics in London.

"They are horrible," he said in a conference call, recorded by a
television journalist and later leaked to the media. "They did not speak
English. They were thugs."

One of the British torch runners said the Chinese guards were "barking
orders" at her, telling her when to run and when to stop, and ordering
her to hold the flame higher.

Despite the controversy, Chinese officials insisted that the 130-day
torch tour will continue around the world as planned. "No force can stop
the torch relay," Sun Weide, spokesman for the Beijing Organizing
Committee, told reporters in Beijing yesterday.

But the IOC announced that it will review the torch relay at a meeting
in Beijing this week. "We will make an analysis of what has happened and
then we will draw the necessary conclusions," IOC president Jacques
Rogge told reporters yesterday.

Some IOC officials said the organization would consider cutting short
the torch relay and perhaps even abandoning the international portion of
the route in the future. But later Mr. Rogge denied that this is being
considered.

A growing number of world leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen
Harper, have decided not to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing
Olympics, and many see that as a tacit signal of their unhappiness with
China's human-rights policies. A spokesman for U.S. President George W.
Bush, who had previously announced that he would attend the Olympics,
said yesterday that Mr. Bush might still change his mind.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed yesterday that he is unlikely
to attend the opening ceremony unless Beijing launches a dialogue with
the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

Mr. Harper, at a news conference in Ottawa, said he doesn't expect any
boycott of the Olympic Games themselves.

"I would note that even the Dalai Lama has not called for such a
boycott," he said. "Experience would suggest that such boycotts are
generally not effective and really, in the end, only harm the athletes
involved who have trained for so many years to compete in these events."

The Conservative government has come under fire for mixed messages on
China and Tibet, alternately expressing criticism and then backing away.

The Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that Canada's Foreign Affairs
Minister, Maxime Bernier, spoke to his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi,
on Monday, and expressed his support for China's hosting of the
Olympics, Canada's plans to send a high-level delegation and Canada's
belief that Tibet is an "inalienable" part of China.

Mr. Bernier's spokesman, Neil Hrab, said in an e-mail that the two
foreign ministers did discuss the Olympics and Canada's plans to send a
high-level representative, but also "discussed Canada's recent
statements of concern related to the situation in Tibet. The minister
also noted the importance of unrestricted access for observers to the
region."

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said yesterday that the Conservative
government had not ruled out a boycott of the opening ceremonies. Mr.
Harper said last week that he would not attend, but that his decision
had nothing to do with Tibet.

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said that the Conservatives have
moved between a hard line pushed by what he calls "the Chiang Kai-shek
wing of the party" and efforts to repair a damaged relationship with
Beijing.

"The way that the Prime Minister has dealt with this and the China file
is to show no leadership at all," he said. "If he wouldn't go [to the
opening ceremonies], the reasons need to be explained. It can't just be
because he's moving house that week."

Spokesmen at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic organizing body said they are
not deterred by the demonstrations and interference with the passage of
the flame this week. The 2010 torch run will be a domestic affair, but
Vancouver officials said in a statement they would watch and learn from
the rough experience of the Beijing flame.

"As we monitor the Beijing 2008 Torch Relay in the coming days and
months, we will naturally take advantage of opportunities to gather
relevant knowledge that can be used in our planning," they said in the
statement. "That said, we are still in relatively early stages in
planning all aspects of the 2010 relay so it would be premature to
speculate on any elements of the plans," the statement said.

The Vancouver officials said they were "saddened" by the chaotic
protests in London and Paris, which they said have "compromised the
safety of many."

Richard Pound, Canada's senior member on the IOC, welcomed the statement
by Mr. Rogge that the torch relay would continue.

He said it was "good news that the IOC did not step in to cancel
something that been arranged by the Beijing Organizing Committee and
approved by the IOC overseers."

The demonstrations have not surprised Mr. Pound.

The organizers of the protests "got the message wrong," he said.
"They're complaining about the violence in Tibet, but they [protesters]
are using violent means to get to the innocent runners who are carrying
an international symbol of peace. When protest turns into hooliganism,
they can't claim to have any moral high ground."

A flame on the run

The Beijing Olympic torches have been designed to sustain a flame in
heavy rain and wind, but massive protests expected in San Francisco
today - coming after similar disruptions in London and Paris - are
threatening to snuff out the remainder of the international relay.
Police are prepared to make last-minute changes to the planned
10-kilometre route along San Francisco's central waterfront.

Olympic torch route: Thousands of protesters were expected to try to
disrupt the event.

United Nations Plaza:

Richard Gere and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were to attend a pro-Tibet
vigil yesterday.

McCovey Cove: Plans call for the torch relay to begin at 1 p.m.

Justin Herman Plaza:

Closing ceremony planned for 3:30 p.m.

Golden Gate Bridge:

On Monday, protesters scaled the structure and unfurled banners calling
for Tibet's independence.

San Francisco International Airport:

The Olympic torch arrived amid heavy police security about 3:40 a.m.,
yesterday.

Propane flame burns about 15 minutes with no wind

Olympic lantern

Keeps flame lit on aircraft and relights torch during relay.

At night Three guards keep lanterns burning in hotel rooms.

Security Lanterns accompany torch during relay, but locations kept secret.

SOURCES: SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE, MCT
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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