Olympic torch relay may be abandoned

By Richard Spencer in Beijing

International legs of the Olympic torch relay may have to be abandoned this year and for future Games, organisers admitted today after two days of protests disrupted its progress through London and Paris.

The International Olympic Committee met in Beijing to discuss the crisis even as demonstrators in San Francisco, where the torch for the Beijing Games is due to be paraded tomorrow, flew flags from the Golden Gate bridge to herald a new round of protests.

Genially Lindbergh, a vice president, said a "full review" of the relay for this and future Games was needed.

"I am sure it will be discussed," she said.

Jacques Rogue, the president, confirmed the meeting would discuss the events of the past week.

"We are going to of course discuss the torch relay," he said.

"We will discuss this and we will see what we have to do now that we have had six or seven legs."

"We will see what kind of conclusions we have to take from that. I would not want to speculate about what we are going to discuss. We will make an analysis of what has happened and then we will draw the necessary conclusions."

Even as the committee was meeting, protesters climbed the Golden Gate bridge with banners saying "Free Tibet 08" and "One World One Dream. Free Tibet."

"One World One Dream" is the official slogan of the Beijing Games. Local authorities were preparing for trouble, restricting air space above the city and saying they would restrict the route to six miles around the waterfront.

"It must provide a proper forum for the peaceful expression of opinions and dissent," said the head of the US Olympic Committee.

"And it must safely and respectfully welcome the flame and honour the U.S. athletes and other participants who will carry the torch."

Chinese living in America were also mobilising to defend the torch. Embassies have a record of providing buses and incentives to ferry students to "counter-protests" when the country's human rights record is under attack abroad, but on this occasion there was evidence of a spontaneous rallying round the flag.

In Beijing, the strongest argument for an end to the international torch relay, at least for future Games, came from Kevan Gosper, the IOC vice-president in charge of media relations.

"I think events in Tibet have of course stirred the potential for protest," he said.

"I'm a firm believer that we had the right template in the first place, that the torch simply should go from Olympia, Greece, to the host country.

"I would expect that the Olympic committee will review that template."

But he said he thought this year's relay should continue, and he condemned the demonstrations in London and Paris.

"They just take their hate out on whatever the issues are at the time, and that hate against the host country is being taken out on our torch," he said.

Mr Rogue also condemned the violence used by some of the protesters, while the Chinese authorities, who allowed newspapers and television to show graphic pictures of protesters grappling with police, said they were "despicable."

"We also warn groups and elements attempting to disrupt and sabotage the torch relay that their goal — of using the Olympics for their unspeakable ends and to blacken and put pressure on China — is absolutely unattainable," said Jiang Yu, a government spokeswoman.

She added that Tibet was currently enjoying a "golden age" of economic growth and development.

Copyright © 2008 Telegraph

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