San Francisco officials are bracing for protests Wednesday, when the Olympic torch is scheduled to pass through as part of the international leg of the relay leading up to this summer's Beijing Olympics. It will be the torch's only appearance in North America.
Featuring up to 80 runners, the San Francisco portion of the relay will be under a microscope after International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge told the Associated Press today that the IOC will consider cancelling the rest of the international relay.
The possible change in plans follows two days of chaotic protests as the torch was carried through the streets of London and Paris.
Demonstrators protesting Chinese policy climbed the Golden Gate bridge on Monday and unfurled pro-Tibet independence banners. That prompted San Francisco officials to announce today that they reserve the right to change the route of the relay right up to and even during the run. The San Francisco Examiner reports that officials have already decided to shorten the route.
U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth said in a statement that the event was crucial for San Francisco. The relay is "an important moment for the city to show its character, hospitality and commitment to peace and tolerance," he said.
Rogge told the AP that he was "deeply saddened" by chaotic protests in London and Paris the last two days and is worried about the upcoming San Francisco leg.
The decision to scrap the rest of the tour could come as early as Friday, when the committee's executive panel meets. The torch arrived early today at San Francisco's airport.
ABC News has been told that at least one of the relay runners has pulled out of the event, citing safety concerns.
The torch so far has been met with protests in London and Paris, where demonstrators tried to extinguish the flame. In Paris on Monday, dozens of protesters jostled with police so persistently that officials were forced several times to make an unprecedented decision to extinguish the flame and halt the procession. The end of the relay was ultimately canceled.
In China today, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu refused to concede the Paris relay had been marred by protests and cut short, insisting it was "successfully completed." China is also flatly denying reports that the torch or flame was extinguished at any time.
"The holy flame of the Olympics belongs to people worldwide. The disruption and sabotage of the torch relay is a challenge to the Olympic charter and spirit, the world legal system and peace-loving people around the world," Jiang told reporters.
Sen. Hillary Clinton called Monday for President George W. Bush to boycott the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing. On ABC's "Good Morning America" today, Clinton said that the Olympics are "an international event, not a Chinese event," and said Bush should not have "given away" the option of not attending the ceremony.
But Clinton stopped short of calling for a boycott of the entire Olympic games." I don't believe that that's the right approach to take. What we're trying to do is influence the Chinese government. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the moment to put pressure on the Chinese, because they are so concerned about how they will be perceived. " Clinton told "GMA." The traditional Olympic torch relay has never been the target of political protests, experts say.