04/10/2008, 00.00
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In San Francisco torch relay plays hide and seek to avoid protests

The Olympic journey of peace and fraternity is turning into a world-wide demonstration against repression. Olympic committee calls for the respect of human rights and “hopes” for a solution to the Tibet crisis. Meanwhile UK prime minister announces he will not go to the Opening Ceremony of the Games; US president is wavering on the matter.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In San Francisco the Olympic torch, universal symbol of peace and fraternity, changed route, hiding from people to avoid protests against human rights violations in China. In the meantime the “no-show” list to the Opening Ceremony on August 8 is getting longer.

To avoid crowds of demonstrators like in London and Paris, the authorities in San Francisco changed and cut the route, deciding to avoid the Golden Gate Bridge, the city’s landmark.

The torch still faced protests and its journey was slowed down despite an escort of hundreds of policemen. Tensions were palpable between protesters and supporters of the Chinese government.

The planned waterfront closing ceremony in Justin Herman Plaza was moved to a motorway fly-over before its flight to Buenos Aires.

Now every city on the torch’s international route is forewarned.

In Jakarta the authorities have decided to significantly shorten the leg of the Olympic torch relay, which is expected for 22 April, following a request by Beijing over security concerns.

Faced with a torch relay  playing hide and seek with the crowds, Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), for the first time in months said that the “Games are about much more than performance alone. They are about values of universality, respect, tolerance and friendship. They must be underpinned by the respect of ethical values [. . .] and human rights.”

He also did not say what he discussed with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao but said that “[o]n Monday, I spoke about the serious concerns and emotions of the IOC about the situation in Tibet. I expressed a hope for a rapid and peaceful resolution of the crisis. I stated that violence, for whatever reason, is contrary to the Olympic values, the torch relay and to the Games.”

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for british Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he would not be attending the opening ceremonies, but others pointed out that he never said he would attend the opening, only the closing ceremony.

The announcement of his absence follows that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who had long said she would not go for prior engagements.

For his part French President Nicolas Sarkozy launched the idea of boycotting the ceremony.

In Strasbourg the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning "the brutal repression" by China last month's of Tibetan protests, urging EU leaders not to go to Beijing if China does not start a dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

After announcing his intention to go to the Games US President George W. Bush is under pressure not to.

Yesterday he renewed his appeal to Beijing “to begin a dialogue" with Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom he called a "peaceful man . . . who is not for independence, but for the cultural identity of the Tibetans being maintained.”

The Dalai Lama, who arrived in Japan today before flying to the United States, said that the international community should look into the clashes.

“I appeal to the international community to carry out a thorough investigation,” he said. “As far as we know, at least a few hundred people were killed in the Tibetan area.”

China's government put the death toll from the Lhasa riots at 22.

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See also
Ban Ki-moon staying away from Olympic Opening Ceremony
Beijing’s media war against the Dalai Lama
According to Beijing Spielberg is “naïve” and lacking in “common sense”
Olympics: the talk is about boycott
Islamabad under siege for the torch as a “twin” torch gets ready for India


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