Torch Rerouted, Ceremony Moved in S.F.

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In it's only appearance on North American soil, the Olympic torch was deterred again by activists calling attention to China's human rights record.

The planned closing ceremony for the torch, set to take place at the San Francisco Bay waterfront, was cancelled Wednesday and moved to the San Francisco International Airport, after security concerns were raised.

There was "a disproportionate concentration of people in and around the start of the relay," Mayor Gavin Newsom said. "We felt by the time we got everybody on the sidewalks, too much time would have passed."

Earlier that day, the torch relay was rerouted and cut short as thousands of demonstrators gathered at the waterfront.

During the opening ceremony, the first torchbearer took the flame through a warehouse and disappeared.  Officials then drove the torch to the next set of runners.

One runner had already dropped out earlier in the week over safety fears, officials said.

Six Mile Run Cut Short

Shortly before the relay's start, officials cut the torch's original 6-mile route nearly in half, running the torch toward the Golden Gate Bridge and away from crowds.

Chi Zhang, a software engineer from Sunnyvale, said he waited since 10 a.m. to see the torch, but found out four hours later it's route had been changed.

"That's surprising," he said. "We were very excited about this. This was supposed to be the only stop in the United States. I took a day off work to be here."

Ling Li, 29, who immigrated from China 's eight years ago, said she was disappointed that this pivotal moment in her country's history was being marred by demonstrations.

"If I support the Olympics, of course I don't support the protests. This is the first time China has had the Olympics. We should be proud of this," she said.

On Tuesday, the flame was taken to a secret location shortly after its early arrival in San Francisco. The city was chosen to host the relay in part because of its large Chinese-American population.

Signs of Tension

Pro-Tibet and Pro-China groups were both given permits by the state to demonstrate, but had to do so side-by-side. At some points, they shouted at each other from their designated areas.

Also along the torch's planned route, about 200 Chinese college students mobbed a car carrying two people waving Tibetan flags. The students banged drums and chanted "Go Olympics" in Chinese.

On Monday, activists also hung banners from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Local officials said they tightened security following violent protests during the torch's previous stops in London and Paris. "We are trying to accomplish two goals here. One is to protect the right to free speech and the other is to ensure public safety, and here in San Francisco we are good at both of those things," said Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for the city's mayor.

Stopping the Torch Relay?

In Beijing, the Olympic board will discuss Friday whether to end the international leg of the torch relay. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said he was "deeply saddened" by the previous protests and was concerned about the relay in San Francisco.

"We recognize the right for people to protest and express their views, but it should be nonviolent. We are very sad for all the athletes and the people who expected so much from the run and have been spoiled of their joy," Rogge said.

"If you know China, you know that mounting the barricades and using tough language will have the opposite effect. China will close itself off from the rest of the world, which, don't forget it, it has done for some 2,000 years."

After San Francisco, the torch is scheduled to travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then to a dozen other countries before arriving in mainland China.

The Olympic torch began its 85,000-mile journey from Ancient Olympia in Greece to Beijing on March 24. It is the longest journey in history for the flame.

Source: The Associated Press 

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