Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Will the Torch Get Through San Francisco?

Olympic Torch Relay Chaotic in San Francisco

The Olympic torch relay got off to a chaotic start Wednesday when the torchbearer was re-routed as thousands of China supporters and protesters lined the route in San Francisco.

The flame disappeared from view when the torchbearer was routed through a warehouse after Wednesday afternoon's opening ceremony, reappearing 30 minutes later about a mile from the expected location.

Before the opening ceremony, San Francisco police said the Olympic torch relay route would be cut in half.

Authorities did not offer an immediate explanation for the change, but city officials had warned they might shorten the six-mile route for security reasons.

Crowds began to gather early in the day at San Francisco's McCovey Cove, where the Olympic torch is scheduled to make its North American debut amid tight security.

The torch's circuitous travel around the globe has already has been marked by demonstrations against China's policies toward Tibet and Sudan, and more demonstrations are expected worldwide before it reaches the games.

San Francisco officials said police officers were backed up by other Bay Area police departments, the California Highway Patrol and the FBI in an effort to keep Olympic runners and bystanders safe, while protecting the protesters' right to free speech.

Nearly 80 torchbearers had prepared to carry the Olympic flame along the route past hordes of protesters and counterprotesters.

Ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes, who was to be one of the torch runners, said the city of San Francisco has taken the proper precautions to protect runners.

Karnazes said city officials reassured participants that law enforcement would work with the State Department and international authorities to avoid a repeat of the chaotic demonstrations in Paris and London. Karnazes also said the actual relay route would be kept secret as long as possible.

Violent protests in those cities prompted several San Francisco torchbearers to drop out.

San Francisco is the only stop for the torch in North America. The city was chosen to host the relay, in part, because of its large Chinese-American population.

Many San Francisco residents have asked for calm and expressed their pride that China was chosen to host the Olympics.

Chinese officials have dismissed previous demonstrations as the actions of a few who are trying to hijack a historical event for their own purposes.

Later this week, the International Olympic Committee will consider canceling the rest of the torch's world tour.

Interactive world map of the torch relay

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