Olympic torch reaches San Francisco
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The Olympic torch arrived for its only North American stop amid heavy security Tuesday, one day after its visit to Paris descended into chaos and activists here scaled the Golden Gate Bridge to protest China's human rights record.
Meanwhile, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said the committee would consider ending the international leg of the Beijing Olympic torch relay because of anti-Chinese protests.
Rogge told The Associated Press he was "deeply saddened" by violent protests in London and Paris and concerned about the upcoming torch relay in San Francisco, where activists expressed fears Monday that the torch's planned route through Tibet would lead to arrests and violent measures by Chinese officials trying to stifle dissent.
The flame arrived in San Francisco shortly before 4 a.m. Tuesday and was put in a vehicle to be whisked to an undisclosed location, San Francisco Olympic Torch Relay Committee spokesman David Perry said. No protesters were seen at the airport, but security was heightened because a several demonstrations were planned before the torch's six-mile relay Wednesday, including a relay supporting Tibetan independence.
"We treated it like a head of state visit," airport spokesman Mike McCaron said.
Three people climbed the Golden Gate Bridge on Monday and tied the Tibetan flag and two banners to its cables. The banners read "One World One Dream. Free Tibet," and "Free Tibet 08."
The bridge protest's organizers said they would remain faithful to their mission of protesting peacefully during the torch relay. They said they wanted to take full advantage of the international spotlight to get their message out.
"This is a life-or-death situation for Tibetans," said Yangchen Lhamo, an organizer of the banner-hanging who is on the board of directors of Students for a Free Tibet.
Also Monday, Olympic organizers canceled the final leg of the Paris run after demonstrators scaled the Eiffel Tower, grabbed for the flame and forced security officials to repeatedly snuff out the torch and transport it by bus past demonstrators. China condemned the protests as "despicable" but vowed to continue the relay to the end.
Rogue said the IOC's executive board would discuss ending the international leg in a meeting Friday.
After San Francisco, the torch is scheduled to travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then to a dozen other countries. It is scheduled to enter mainland China on May 4 for the host country's portion of the relay.
San Francisco officials said they were developing a plan that strikes a balance between protesters' rights to express their views and the city's ability to host a safe torch ceremony.
U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth said in a statement the event was "an important moment for the city to show its character, hospitality and commitment to peace and tolerance."
"It must provide a proper forum for the peaceful expression of opinions and dissent. And it must safely and respectfully welcome the flame and honor the U.S. athletes and other participants who will carry the torch," Ueberroth said.
Mayor Gavin Newsom and the police department said they reserved the right to adjust the flame's route, slated to run along the San Francisco Bay, if necessary. The air space above the city will be restricted during the relay, a federal aviation spokesman said.
Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for Newsom, dismissed rumors that the relay would be canceled. Newsom met with Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong on Monday afternoon to discuss security measures for the relay, Ballard said.
"It was a good meeting and they discussed their shared desire to try to limit the kind of chaos that we have seen in London and Paris," he said.
Lorri Coppola, a champion racewalker whose body is being slowly shut down by Lou Gehrig's disease, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, has met with the Dalai Lama in the past and understands the protesters' motives.
"They are doing it in the free countries because they know what might happen should they try to protest in China!" she wrote by e-mail, as the disease has cost her the ability to speak.
She says she's afraid of getting hurt if activists get out of control, especially given her weakened condition.
Activists have been protesting along the torch route since the flame embarked on its 85,000-mile journey from Ancient Olympia in Greece to the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Olympics.
The Golden Gate climbers, who wore helmets and harnesses as they made their way above the famed span, were suspended about 150 feet above traffic. They later climbed down and bridge workers cut down the signs.
In all, seven people were charged with conspiracy and causing a public nuisance, with the three climbers facing additional charges of trespassing, said Mary Ziegenbien, a spokeswoman with the California Highway Patrol.