San Francisco Braces for Torch Protests

"Never before has this happened," said Anthony Bykerk, the secretary general of the International Society of Olympic Historians, of the protests surrounding the Olympic torch. "This is the first time that the torch relay has ever been an element of protest -- it's usually a very big celebration."

While protests and political agendas have often come to the forefront during and leading up to Olympics, said Bykerk, the events of the past couple of days — and the San Francisco incident — are especially troubling.

"This is worse because now they are protesting against the torch relay, which has nothing to do with politics but is supposed to be a symbol of unity — not used as protest," said Bykerk. "If these people want to protest against the human rights question in Tibet, they should have done it 50 years ago."

Protest groups are rallying their supporters and officials are scrambling to prepare for what may be another display of anti-China sentiment.

U.S. Braces for Torch Protests

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who told reporters Monday that the department is working with law enforcement in San Francisco in preparation for the torch's arrival, emphasized the importance of finding a balance between the rights of the protesters and the rights of the event's organizers.

"I think everybody, it goes without saying, wants to have this be an event that is secure, is one that helps reflect the Olympic spirit, but also respects people's fundamental rights in this country to express themselves — peacefully express themselves," said McCormack. "So the folks in San Francisco have the lead in making sure that balance is appropriate."

SF Team Tibet, a coalition of Tibetans in the San Francisco area, is using its Web site to organize protesters and "shine the Olympic spotlight on China's atrocities in occupied Tibet," according to a statement on its site.

The group has posted an hour-by-hour schedule for Wednesday's torch relay and even provides a link for volunteers to print their own protest signs.

Despite the indications that protests will continue to occur in San Francisco, city officials aren't backing down, said McCormack.

"City officials have clearly said, and we support this, that they want this event to be able to take place," said McCormack. "But we also have a core and fundamental value here in the United States that people should be able to express themselves peacefully."

Sgt. Neville Gittens of the San Francisco Police Department declined to give specifics on the city's security measures for , but told that police are "monitoring events that have happened and are adjusting their plan accordingly."

"Days off were canceled for all members, including our patrolmen, sergeants and inspectors back in January for this particular event," said.

"Our goal is to make sure that we provide a safe environment for all participants," said Gittens. "And if individuals take part in acts of civil disobedience or other criminal acts, force will be taken against them."

"But at the same time, we will protect the First Amendment rights of all individuals attending the event," added Gittens.

ABC News' Stephanie Sy , Luis Martinez and Laura Marquez contributed to this report.

After anti-Chinese protesters wreaked havoc during the Olympic torch relay in Europe the last two days, the head of the International Olympic Committee today raised the possibility that the torch run may have to be canceled.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...