April 7, 2008
Protests Extinguish Olympic Torch in France
The progress of the Olympic torch which snakes its way around the world after being lit in Greece to end up in the host country and carried into the stadium at the opening ceremonies where it is used to light the Olympic flame for the duration of the games is followed with great interest by many around the world. It is a symbol of the Olympic spirit and ideally, should not be extinguished from the time it is lit to the end of the games.
Occasionally, the flame has gone out as a result of weather or some mechanical malfunction with the torch. But it has been a long time since it was extinguished as a result of protests against the host country's political and human rights policies:
The Olympic torch relay was disrupted Monday by protesters in Paris demonstrating against the Chinese government, causing authorities to twice extinguish the flame and put the torch on a bus, according to The Associated Press.This is an enormous embarrassment to the Chinese government. The progress of the torch is supposed to be triumphal. Instead, it is turning into a constant reminder of the government crackdown on the Tibetan people and their continued occupation of the tiny country.
The torch was being carried by a wheelchair athlete when it was halted and extinguished for a second time due to demonstrators shouting, according to AP. Backup flames, also lit from the birthplace of the ancient games in Olympia, Greece, are on call with the relay at all times to relight the torch.
Agencies report that the relay has now resumed.
The incidents came one day after human-rights activist demonstrators made the torch's journey through London more like running the gauntlet than a journey of celebration, with UK police making more than two dozen arrests
Measures to protect the torch for the remainder of its journey through France are surreal:
Paris police have conceived a security plan to keep the torch in a safe "bubble," during its 17-mile (28 km) journey, with a multi-layered protective force to surround the torch as it moves along the route.Police rollerblading around the torchbearer is probably not the visual the Chinese government would wish to see carried around the world when reporting on the progress of the Olympic flame.
French torchbearers will be encircled by several hundred officers, some in riot police vehicles and on motorcycles, others on rollerblades and on foot. Chinese torch escorts will immediately surround the torchbearer, with Paris police on rollerblades moving around them.
French firefighters in jogging shoes will encircle the officers on rollerblades while motorcycle police will form the outer layer of security. The relay route in Paris is also significantly shorter than that in London Sunday.
Just how is the Chinese government reacting to all this controversy swirling around the torch relay? They are basically ignoring the protests, chalking them up to "a small number of pro-Tibet" protestors:
There have been attempts made to disturb and sabotage the Torch Relay by a small number of "pro-Tibet independence" activists.Press reports had thousands of protestors in the streets of London and Paris while little in the way of condemnation has come their way - except from Chinese officials. But the above is what the Chinese people are seeing and reading about the torch and its torturous passage through the free countries of the world.
The Olympic Torch Relay embodies the Olympic spirit and represents the earnestness and excitement with which the world awaits the Olympic Games. A small number of "pro-Tibet independence" activists have attempted to sabotage the event. During the Greece leg of the relay, a few activists attempted to stop the relay by lying on the street. In London, a few protesters planned and carried out several destructive actions. One "pro-Tibet independence" activist tried to grab the torch and another attempted to extinguish the flame when well-known U.K. television presenter Konnie Huq was carrying the torch in northwest London. Their actions were stopped by local police, although Konnie Huq sustained a slight injury. During a lunch break, several "pro-Tibet independence" activists got past security in an attempt to clash with torchbearers and disturb the relay. The British police were successful in preventing these efforts.
Local people in London strongly opposed the attempt to sabotage the Torch Relay. And the behavior of "pro-Tibet independence" activists has aroused resentment and received condemnation in London.
Up next for the torch is San Francisco. With its large ethnic Chinese population, one would think the torch would be in big trouble. But the Chinese have a friend in Mayor Gavin Newsom who has deemed any disruption of the festivities a black mark against San Francisco as much as the Chinese. Hence, he has restricted protests to areas where the cameras following the torch will not be able to record how angry people are with China's Tibet policy:
Organizations that oppose China's human-rights record said Tuesday that they've been denied demonstration permits at large outdoor gathering areas on April 9, the day of the torch relay.Maybe they should have asked President Bush to carry the torch. You can bet Newsom and his crew would have bent over backwards to make sure there were tens of thousands of protestors following the flame then.
They will instead be forced into certain areas, possibly far from the main torch route. City officials said that the restrictions are necessary to ensure security at the event but that those precautions shouldn't limit the protesters' rights to gather, a right guaranteed in the First Amendment. Tens of thousands of protesters are expected, organizers said.
The event will be open to everyone, said Mayor Gavin Newsom, including "those who want to see this as an opportunity to raise the flag of concern about issues of disagreement with the Chinese government. That is something that is sacrosanct to us." But that opportunity will be limited in ways uncommon for the city that hosts myriad rallies and protests.
Protesters will be restricted to "areas set up for First Amendment rights issues," according to Sgt. Neville Gittens, spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department.
Indeed, one is hardpressed to think of a situation where liberal protestors in San Francisco have been restricted from making their feelings known against such targets as military recruitment, docking of Navy ships, or speeches by prominent conservatives. Apparently it only matters when they might be seen as being beastly to a murderous communist government - a curious but typical bit of intellectual legerdermain by liberals.
I would guess that a few Chinese protestors will make it to the relay route and attempt to disrupt its passage anyway. I say good on them for not allowing the French of all people to outdo Americans in a demonstration of liberty loving. And I can't see how the Paris police will outdo any west coast cops when it comes to rollerblading.
Our guys can outblade the French any day of the week.