'No changes' to Olympic torch route

IOC chief says there are no plans to alter or cut torch's journey despite protests.

    IOC chief Jacques Rogge said the torch relay will continue as planned [AFP] 

    The torch route has faced several protests during its journey so far, mostly over an alleged Chinese crackdown in Tibet.
    But the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan exiled spiritual leader, said on Thursday that China has the right to host the Olympics, which are due to go ahead in August.
    "I support the Chinese host for the world game because China is the most populous nation, ancient nation," he said.
    Also on Thursday, Chinese police said that it had uncovered a plot to kidnap foreign journalists, tourists and athletes during the Olympic Games.
    "The violent terrorist group plotted to kidnap foreign journalists, tourists, and athletes during the Beijing Olympics and, by creating an international impact, achieve the goal of wrecking the Beijing Olympics," Wu Heping, a spokesman for China’s ministry of public security, said.
    The kidnap plan was devised in the remote Xinjiang region, which has a strong Muslim population of Turkic-speaking Uighurs.
    In the other case, police in January broke up a group "sent from abroad" by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement to stage attacks with explosives and toxic materials during the Olympics, the Chinese government's website said.
    No farewell
    The Olympic torch relay has witnessed a series of protests since it began its interantional journey.
    Olympic torch relay

    Modern tradition of torch relay began in 1936 at Berlin Olympics


    This year's is the longest ever, travelling



    The torch will visit 19 nations over 130 days


    First destination is Kazakhstan


    On the final leg, it will travel throughout China, including Tibet and the

    summit of Mount Everest


    Click here to go to the official torch relay site

    (Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites)

    Officials overseeing the torch route in San Francisco on Wednesday cancelled the planned closing ceremony on the city's waterfront.
    They changed the location at the last minute to San Francisco's airport.
    But the flame was not even displayed there. Instead, it was put on an aircraft for its next leg in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
    There was no formal goodbye to mark the torch's only American stop on its symbolic journey to the Beijing Games.


    The ignominious exit was the culmination of a chaotic day in which the route of the relay was altered and shortened after thousands of demonstrators – for and against China's hosting of the Olympics – turned out on the city's streets.


    Brown boycott


    It came as the British prime minister's office said Gordon Brown would skip the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, a spokeswoman said.


    Brown is the second major world leader after Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to skip the opening ceremony but his office said he was not boycotting the Olympics and would attend the closing ceremony.


    The US has not ruled out a boycott of the Beijing Games but George Bush, the country's president, has said that he will attend the opening ceremony.
    On Wednesday Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, called on Bush to boycott the Olympics if China failed to improve its human rights in Tibet and Darfur.
    Last week Democrats in the US congress led by Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, urged Bush to consider a boycott to protest against China's crackdown on demonstrators in Tibet.
    Hours before the San Francisco relay, Bush had urged China to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader in exile, saying "it would stand the Chinese government in good stead if they would begin a dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama".

    China's Olympic flame guardians

    "Flame protection squad" formed in August 2007, t

    asked with protecting the flame 24 hours a day

    Seventy members picked from People's Armed Police, usually responsible for riot control and domestic stability

    Training for squad included running 10km a day on mountain roads

    Called "thugs" by Sebastian Coe, chairman of the 2012 London Olympics organising committee

    Criticised for not knowing how to handle protests and acting as "robots or watchdogs" by

    David Douillet, a French Olympic official

    Blamed for holding up the relay's progress in Paris through procrastination by Pierre Mure, a Paris police official

    In San Francisco, the Olympic torch was driven more than a kilometre away from its planned route, away from China supporters as well as protesters against the Beijing government.


    Two runners then carried the torch down a main road flanked by police and Chinese security officials.
    Protesters had targeted the route of the torch in London and Paris in the past week over a range of China issues from its recent crackdown on Tibet to human rights.
    Beijing has strongly condemned the protests.
    Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, said the torch route had to be changed at the last minute or the event cancelled to assure public safety.
    "It did not appear to be doable with the crowds," Newsom said.
    Torch 'disappears'
    As the ceremony began, the first torchbearer took the flame from a lantern brought to the stage and held it aloft before quickly departing again into a warehouse.
    It then disappeared from public view for about half an hour, while it was driven more than a kilometre inland from its expected location to a main road running through the city.
    Officials had already cut the original nearly 10-km route by almost half over fears of protests.
    Hundreds of pro-China and pro-Tibet demonstrators blew whistles and waved flags near the site of the relay's opening ceremony.
    Police struggled to keep the groups apart and at least one protester was detained
    "I think it's cowardly. If they can't run the torch through the city, it means that no one is supporting the Games," said Matt Helmenstine, a California teacher holding a Tibetan flag.
    San Francisco is a city with a large Chinese-American population and many had waited to see the torch relay.
    Farther along the planned route, about 200 Chinese students reportedly surrounded a car carrying two people waving Tibetan flags.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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