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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

A 'CRISIS' FOR THE GAMES The Olympic Flame Flees San Francisco

April 12, 2008

By Cordula Meyer in San Francisco
Spiegel (Germany)
April 10, 2008

It was supposed to be an Olympic-sized party for the US city with the
closest connections to China. Instead, the flame snuck through back
alleys to avoid pro-Tibet demonstrators. IOC head Rogge called the torch
tour a "crisis."

The Olympic flame hadn't even been handed over to the first torch bearer
before the Wednesday relay ran into problems. Tibetan demonstrators
managed to stop an official bus carrying the athletes who had been
chosen to carry the flame through San Francisco. The protesters, wrapped
in Tibetan flags, lay in the street and shouted: "Shame on you China!
Shame on you China." Others sprayed "Free Tibet" on the side of the bus,
plastered it with stickers and crammed pro-Tibet posters under the
windshield wipers. It wasn't long before the front window was cracked.
The driver grabbed for his phone and security personnel called for
backup. "We only have four officers in front of the bus. Not more," one
called into his cell phone. "It's a mess."

Thousands of people began gathering along the planned parade route --
the promenade between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge -- in
the sunny, spring morning. Many of them were wearing red T-shirts and
carrying the red flag of China, having been bused in by the Chinese
Embassy. But many others waved the Tibetan flag, carried protest signs
and wore sweat tops emblazoned with "Team Tibet." For hours, the two
sides faced off at the relay's starting point, hardly a meter away from
each other and separated only by a few police. "Go China Go!" screamed
one side. The others answered with "China out of Tibet!"

It was a potentially threatening scene, and one that led the organizers
to quickly change the route and shorten it by half. Instead of following
Herb Caen Way along San Francisco Bay, the new route led through a
non-descript street with little in the way of scenery. San Francisco
opted for security -- and indeed, there were no incidents of note. But
it was almost as if the torch run had been cancelled. The ceremony
turned into a hastily-organized game of hide-and-seek. Without
festivity, without dignity. The Olympic flame in San Francisco was a
flame in flight. When it was over, the Chinese felt they had been
cheated out of their day of celebration. The protesters saw themselves
swindled out of their demonstration.

Still, the pro-Tibet activists were the clear winners -- they managed to
chase the flame out of the country. It was clear that something was up
right after the opening ceremony. The first torch bearer was led past
the security barriers and out of sight. For almost an hour, nothing
happened at all. Then two torch bearers suddenly appeared more than a
kilometer away from the original route, surrounded by Chinese security
forces in light blue tracksuits (more...). Jogging police officers
bearing truncheons formed a circle around them. On the very outside of
the group, police officers on motorcycles provided yet another line of
security. The runners waved in apparent enthusiasm, but there were no
crowds to wave at. At the edge a few dozen tourists looked on and took
photographs on their mobile phones. The crowds with their flags and
placards were all obliviously standing along the original route.

Only a few demonstrators caught up with the flame, having been notified
by text message. There was a small scuffle when police officers threw
themselves at one particularly unruly demonstrator. One torch bearer,
who pulled a Tibet flag from her shirt sleeve, was pulled away.

When word spread among the thousands of people along the original route
that the torch was elsewhere, some tried to catch up with the flame.
Others made their way to the planned closing ceremony. "I am so
disappointed," said one man, who had painted a Chinese flag on his
cheek. "Why are they hiding the flame from us?" However, Peter
Ueberroth, the head of the US Olympic Committee pronounced himself
pleased with how things had gone and said that San Francisco had found
the "right balance" for all sides.

Jacques Rogge seemed somewhat less pleased. The head of the
International Olympic Committee (IOC) spoke of a "crisis" for the first
time. At a meeting with his colleagues from 205 national Olympic
committees in Beijing he said that the torch relay in San Francisco was
at least an improvement on the tumultuous scenes in London and Paris in
previous days. "It was, however, not the joyous party that we had wished
it to be," said Rogge. "We were saddened by what we saw in London and
Paris." Rogge insisted that the Olympic Games would rebound from the
current "crisis." He praised the Chinese committee saying that the
Beijing games were being very well organized.

Rogge once again spoke of his "serious concerns" about the situation in
Tibet and called for a "rapid and peaceful solution." "Athletes in many
countries are in disarray and we need to reassure them," he said. The
games in August must be underpinned by "respect for ethical values, no
doping, no cheating and respect for human rights."

Meanwhile Olympic fans and demonstrators in San Francisco had been
engaging in shouting matches all day. Native Tibetan Tashi Dorjee from
Minnesota had already been traveling around California by bike for
several weeks to raise awareness of the human rights situation in Tibet.
He wants to accompany an alternative torch relay called the "Human
Rights Torch" by bicycle along Highway One to Los Angeles. "China is
using the Olympic Games," he said. "The Communist Party of China is
trying to exploit the spirit of the Games to brush up their image." He
expressed his concern about the deaths in Tibet, the dissidents in
prison and the fact that China is supplying arms for the genocide in the
Sudanese province of Darfur.

Alex Li, a software engineer of Chinese descent from San Jose, refused
to listen to Dorjee's arguments. "Why are you hijacking this event? Why?
You are simply wrong," he shouted angrily at the cyclist. "The games are
for the people in China, not for the government. But with these protests
you are pitting yourself against the Chinese people. You have the right
to protest. But why here? Why now?"

San Francisco has a big Asian population, with a particularly large
Chinese community. The city has close economic relations and other
connections to China. For this reason, San Francisco was chosen as the
only US city to host the torch relay.

However a possible route through Chinatown was discarded at an early
stage due to security concerns. But many San Francisco residents of
Chinese descent feel cheated that they were not even allowed to cheer on
the torch along its route. "I am proud of the Olympics, I am proud of
Beijing and my country," said Dan Liu, who lives in a San Francisco
suburb. She said that she had always liked the Dalai Lama, the spiritual
leader of Tibet. But since he began using the Olympics for political
ends, "I hate him."

Among the pro-Tibet activists was the teacher and amateur climber Laurel
Sutherlin. Along with two like-minded activists, he succeeded Tuesday in
climbing up the Golden Gate Bridge and unfurling a huge banner with the
words "Free Tibet 2008." Now he was trying again to position
demonstrators at the most effective place on the route, after being
released from jail at 1 a.m. "We hid our banner in strollers on the
bridge," he said, describing his publicity stunt. "We knew that we had
90 seconds to get up there, because the police would need two minutes to
arrive. And it worked out well."

Sutherlin said he hoped the torch relay would become a PR disaster for
Beijing. Through his protests, he said, he wanted to prevent the torch
from being carried through Tibet, as otherwise there would be protests
there again and people would be killed. "If the IOC allows the torch to
proceed into Tibet they'll have blood on their hands," Sutherlin said.

Although Sutherlin's protest was spectacular, it was just one of many
similar actions against China in San Francisco. Burmese monks marched
over the Golden Gate Bridge. On Tuesday several thousand demonstrators
with candles gathered at the square of the United Nations in the city
center. Monks in robes, aging hippies with pony tails, Tibetan students
with black headbands all chanted: "Expose China! China lies!"

Even Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu took part. He said
people had demonstrated against apartheid and now it was time to
demonstrate for the oppressed people in Tibet. He appealed to world
leaders: "For God's sake, for the sake of our children, for the sake of
their children, for the sake of the beautiful people of Tibet -- don't go."

Actor Richard Gere, himself a Buddhist and admirer of the Dalai Lama,
prayed with monks on the stage. He pleaded with the demonstrators to
choose a "violence-free path," adding he had never done as many
interviews on Tibet, as in the past few days.

When the "Team Tibet" protest groups announced by text message, just
after 4:00 p.m. San Francisco time, they had been "victorious," they
were not totally off the mark. "The torch is on the highway, travelling
in the direction of the airport, in flight," they wrote. A few minutes
earlier the organizers had also cancelled a closing ceremony in a park
with live music and a VIP tent. Instead of joyful celebrations, TV
pictures filmed from a helicopter, showed how the bus with the torch
sped towards the airport.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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