At least the French have guts
Olympic Torch Relay in Chaos in Paris
Apr 7, 6:21 PM (ET)
By JEROME PUGMIRE and ELAINE GANLEY
PARIS (AP) - Paris' Olympic torch relay descended into
chaos Monday, with protesters scaling the Eiffel
Tower, grabbing for the flame and forcing security
officials to repeatedly snuff out the torch and
transport it by bus past demonstrators yelling "Free
The relentless anti-Chinese demonstrations ignited
across the capital with unexpected power and
ingenuity, foiling 3,000 police officers deployed on
motorcycles, in jogging gear and even inline skates.
Chinese organizers finally gave up on the relay,
canceling the last third of what China had hoped would
be a joyous jog by torch-bearing VIPs past some of
Paris' most famous landmarks.
Thousands of protesters slowed the relay to a
stop-start crawl, with impassioned displays of anger
over China's human rights record, its grip on Tibet
and support for Sudan despite years of bloodshed in
Five times, the Chinese officials in dark glasses and
tracksuits who guard the torch extinguished it and
retreated to the safety of a bus - the last time
emerging only after the vehicle drove within 15 feet
of the final stop, a track and field stadium. A
torchbearer then ran the final steps inside.
Outside, a few French activists supporting Tibet had a
fist-fight with pro-Chinese demonstrators. The French
activists spat on them and shouted, "Fascists!"
In San Francisco, where the torch is due to arrive
Wednesday, three protesters wearing harnesses and
helmets climbed up the Golden Gate Bridge and tied the
Tibetan flag and two banners to its cables. The
banners read "One World One Dream. Free Tibet" and
The 17.4-mile route in Paris started at the Eiffel
Tower, headed down the Champs-Elysees toward City
Hall, then crossed the Seine before ending at the
Charlety track and field stadium.
Throughout the day, protesters booed trucks emblazoned
with the names of Olympic corporate sponsors, chained
themselves to railings and hurled water at the flame.
Some unfurled banners depicting the Olympic rings as
handcuffs from the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame
cathedral. Others waved signs reading "the flame of
The Interior Ministry said police made 18 arrests.
Officers sprayed tear gas to break up a sit-in by
about 300 pro-Tibet demonstrators who blocked the
route. Police tackled protesters who ran at the torch;
at least two activists got within arm's length before
they were grabbed by police. Near the Louvre, police
blocked a protester who approached the flame with a
One detained demonstrator, handcuffed in a police bus,
wrote "liber" on her right palm and "te" on the other
- spelling the French word for "freedom" - and held
them up to the window.
With protesters slowing down the relay, a planned stop
at Paris City Hall was canceled. Earlier, French
officials hung a banner declaring support for human
rights on the building's facade.
A spokesman for the French Olympic Committee, Denis
Masseglia, estimated that a third of the 80 athletes
and other VIPs who had been slated to carry the torch
did not get to do so.
On a bus carrying French athletes, one man in a track
suit shed a tear as protesters pelted the vehicle with
eggs, bottles and soda cans.
The chaos started at the Eiffel Tower moments after
the relay began. Green Party activist Sylvain Garel
lunged for the first torchbearer, former hurdler
Stephane Diagana, shouting "Freedom for the Chinese,"
before security officials pulled him back.
"It is inadmissible that the games are taking place in
the world's biggest prison," Garel said later.
Outside parliament, as the torch passed, 35 lawmakers
protested, shouting "Freedom for Tibet."
"The flame shouldn't have come to Paris," said Carmen
de Santiago, who had "free" painted on one cheek and
"Tibet" on the other.
"The Olympic Games are about sports. It's not fair to
turn them into politics," said Gao Yi, a Chinese
doctoral student in computer science.
France's former sports minister, Jean-Francois Lamour,
stressed that though the torch was extinguished along
the route, the Olympic flame itself still burned in a
lantern where it is kept overnight and on airplane
flights. A Chinese official said that flame was used
to re-light the torch each time it was brought aboard
Pro-Tibet advocate Christophe Cunniet said he and
other activists were detained after they waved Tibetan
flags, threw flyers and tried to block the route.
Cunniet said police kicked him, cutting his forehead.
"I'm still dazed," he said.
At least one athlete, former Olympic champion
Marie-Jose Perec, was supportive of the demonstrators.
"I think it is very, very good that people have
mobilized like that," she told French television.
But other athletes and sports officials were bitterly
"A symbol like that, carried by young people who want
to deliver a message of peace, should be allowed to
pass," said the head of the French Olympic Committee,
Henri Serandour. "These games are a sounding board for
all those who want to speak about China and Tibet. But
at the same time, there are many wars on the planet
that no one is talking about."
International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Giselle
Davies agreed. "We respect that right for people to
demonstrate peacefully, but equally there is a right
for the torch to pass peacefully and the runners to
enjoy taking part in the relay," she said.
Police had hoped to prevent the chaos that marred the
relay in London a day earlier. There, police had
repeatedly scuffled with activists and 37 people were
Beijing organizers criticized the London protests as a
"disgusting" form of sabotage by Tibetan separatists.
"The act of defiance from this small group of people
is not popular," said Sun Weide, a spokesman for the
Beijing Olympic organizing committee. "It will
definitely be criticized by people who love peace and
adore the Olympic spirit. Their attempt is doomed to
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has left open the
possibility of boycotting the Olympic opening ceremony
depending on how the situation evolves in Tibet.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday that was
still the case.
Activists have been protesting along the torch route
since the flame embarked on its 85,000-mile journey
from Ancient Olympia in Greece to the Aug. 8-24
The round-the-world trip is the longest in Olympic
history, and is meant to highlight China's rising
economic and political power. Activists have seized on
it as a platform for their causes.
The relay also is expected to face demonstrations in
New Delhi and possibly elsewhere on its 21-stop,
six-continent tour before arriving in mainland China
Associated Press writers Nicolas Garriga, Angela
Doland, John Leicester and Alfred de Montesquiou
contributed to this report.