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At least the French have guts

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://apnews.myway.com/article/20080407/D8VT9U8O0.html Olympic Torch Relay in Chaos in Paris Apr 7, 6:21 PM (ET) By JEROME PUGMIRE and ELAINE GANLEY PARIS
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 7, 2008

      Olympic Torch Relay in Chaos in Paris

      Apr 7, 6:21 PM (ET)


      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
      "Free Tibet."

      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
      fire extinguisher.

      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
      the bus.

      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
      Beijing Olympics.

      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
      May 4.


      Associated Press writers Nicolas Garriga, Angela
      Doland, John Leicester and Alfred de Montesquiou
      contributed to this report.
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