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Amid Protests, San Francisco Olympic Torch Relay Follows Shortened Route


Amid tight security, runners carried the Olympic torch through San Francisco Wednesday, as protesters called attention to the human rights record of this year's Olympic host, China. Mike O'Sullivan reports, San Francisco officials changed the route of the torch run to avoid thousands of demonstrators.

Runners carrying the Olympic flame followed a truncated course that avoided protesters who criticized China's recent crackdown in Tibet, and others who decried China's support of the governments of Sudan and Burma, countries accused of human rights abuses. Yet other demonstrators, some of them members of San Francisco's large Chinese American community, waved Chinese flags in support of China. Many in both groups left without seeing the torch.

The relay got off to a late start on its only North American stop, and almost immediately, a runner deviated from the planned route along the waterfront and carried the torch into a warehouse. It reappeared 1 1/2 kilometers inland. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had warned that the path could be changed up to the last minute, following the chaotic protests that marred the torch relay in London and Paris, Sunday and Monday.

The changes angered some in the crowd, but Newsom said they were necessary for the safety of both protesters and supporters of the Beijing Olympics.*

Chinese officials have complained about the sometimes-chaotic protests that have followed the torch relay, calling the demonstrations a political show.

The San Francisco relay came after two days of local protests, which included a rally Tuesday by critics of China's actions in Tibet.

Wednesday, President Bush urged China to open talks with the Dalai Lama, calling the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader a peaceful man who opposes violence. Democratic presidential hopeful, U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton has asked Mr. Bush to boycott the Olympic opening ceremonies to protest the recent bloody Chinese crackdown in Tibet.

British officials said Wednesday that Prime Minister Gordon Brown will not attend the opening ceremonies in Beijing August 8, but will attend the closing events August 24, as planned. In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino reaffirmed that President Bush will attend the Olympics, but declined to say if he will attend the opening.

The next leg of the torch relay will be in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday.

* correction 10 Apr 2008 - The photo of spectators was previously incorrectly identified as protesters.

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