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Olympic torch plays hide and seek in US

April 10, 2008

Fearing violent anti-China protests from Tibetans and human rights activists and possible skirmishes between anti- and pro-Beijing demonstrators, authorities in San Francisco, California, changed and truncated the route of the Olympic torch at the last moment.

Protests greet Olympic torch in US

They also cancelled the closing ceremony planned at the end of relay which will now be held at an undisclosed venue for security reasons.

This left both demonstrators and American-Chinese, who had come to cheer the torch, disappointed but avoided any violent situations seen in Paris and London [Images].

The torch was lit at McCovey Cove behind the schedule and first runner flanked by Chinese and American police headed away from the crowd into a warehouse on the waterfront.

Coverage: Tibet Revolts

The flame remained inside for more than half an hour and then it was taken in a van under heavy security to a location more than two kilometers away where a runner emerged with the torch.

The torch was then taken through alternative route and when it reached near its end where the closing ceremony was to be held, it was announced that the ceremony would also be held at an alternative site, which was not disclosed because of security considerations.

A city spokesman defended the decision, saying that the authorities had decided to change the route taking into consideration the situation as it existed but refused to go into political repercussions. The police has done a wonderful job, he said.

Even as the torch was being taken through alternative route, analysts were discussing the repercussions on political and economic ties between the United States and China, and awaiting Beijing's [Images] reaction to San Francisco's decision, which effectively negated the purpose of the torch to encourage interests in the Games.

The demonstrators, calling for end to repression in Tibet [Images] and denouncing China for not doing enough to pressurize its close ally Sudan to end 'genocide' in its Darfur region, had started collecting hours before the torch was due to start its journey through the San Francisco's streets.

Thousands of Chinese-Americans from the city and surrounding areas carrying American and Chinese flags too reached the area, which was under heavy security to welcome the flame and the atmosphere in the areas they collected was festival like. But the change of route disappointed them.

The demonstrators, who were getting information as to where the flame was over cell phones, tried to reach altered route but mostly failed though at some places a few did mange to reach and were pushed back by police.

Dozens of policemen on motorcycles flanked the runners as those on foot kept a close watch on the sidewalks ready to take on any protesters.

Police had put up strong barricades on the original route, but there were no barriers on the route that the flame took apparently to keep it secret from the demonstrators. But then there were no crowds either.

The change in the closing venue was also to avoid demonstrators who might disrupt the ceremony and create unsavoury situation.

San Francisco is the only city the flame was to touch in North America during its 85,000 mile global journey, which will end in Beijing. The city was chosen as it has huge Chinese American population with close ties to their homeland.

Image: Chinese retired Olympic swimmer Lin Li holds the Olympic torch at the start of the relay in San Francisco, California. The Olympic torch re-appeared on the streets of San Francisco after the runner bearing the flame disappeared from sight for almost an hour, television images showed. Just seconds after the torch was lit and handed to the first runner, both Li and the torch disappeared through a security cordon into a dockside warehouse.
Reportage: PTI | Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

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