Pressure mounts to suspend torch

The Sichuan earthquake prompts calls to suspend the torch relay.

    The Olympic torch has been warmly greeted
    in mainland China [GALLO/GETTY]

    Beijing Olympics organisers are facing growing pressure to alter or suspend the Olympic torch relay, which is scheduled to enter the heart of the quake-effected area next month.

    Winding its way this week through southeastern China, the torch was due to arrive on June 13 in the sprawling city of Chongqing and enter neighboring Sichuan province two days later.

    The quake's epicenter was in Sichuan and 10,000 people have reportedly died there in the aftermath.

    Beijing organising committee spokesman Li Zhanjun said there were no immediate plans to suspend the relay.

    However, an Olympic official who declined to be further identified said a pause was being considered.

    Traffic on Chinese-language Web sites and blogs overwhelmingly favoured some kind of moratorium, either now or next month.

    After a chaos-filled month abroad dotted with pro-Tibet protests at half the stops and shortened routes at others, the Olympic torch returned May 4 to mainland China.

    Torch embraced at home

    It has been greeted by tight security and enthusiastic crowds, the public-relations image organisers are seeking from the Olympics as China tries to show its overwhelming economic growth in the last three decades.

    "Right now we will continue to monitor the disaster situation,'' said Li, director of the Beijing Olympic Media Center.

    "If there are no further developments in the disaster situation, then it will not affect the torch relay.

    "We are in contact with the torch relay cities about the disaster situation. We will continue to monitor this situation. The Beijing organising committee is very saddened by this event. Our sympathy goes out the victims and their families.''

    Added Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang: "As far as I know, the arrangement remains unchanged.''

    Zhang Jian, director of the organising committee's project management office, said the games, and the country, would be safe for more than 500,000 foreign visitors expected for the Olympics.

    "What I want to say to foreign visitors is that the Olympic games are safe, Beijing is safe and China is safe,'' Zhang said.

    On the streets in Beijing, opinion seemed mixed about a pause in the relay.

    "Compared with the whole country, which is so big, the disaster seems small,'' said a taxi driver who identified himself as Mr. Su.

    "If we stop the relay, the Olympic games may be affected.''

    Nearby, another man had a different idea.

    "The torch relay should stop for two or three days,'' said a man calling himself Mr. Zhang.

    "So many lives have gone, and many of them are young students. It's so horrible.''

    The three torch relay sponsors, Samsung, Lenovo and Coca-Cola, were discrete in their endorsement activities during the international legs, but have splashed out their logos liberally during the China legs of the relay.

    The torch returns to Beijing on August 6, two days before the opening ceremonies.

    Sponsors concerned

    Any plan to alter the route would concern sponsors, they have each paid millions for the torch exposure, and the International Olympic Committee.

    Lenovo spokesman Bob Page and Christina Lau of Coca-Cola said their companies would go along with any changes offered by the organisers.

    "The route is not determined by Lenovo,'' Page said. "We will support any decision on this made by the Beijing organising committee.''

    Page said his company was donating $1.4 million to earthquake relief.

    Lau said Coca-Cola was also donating money to the relief effort.

    Samsung did not immediately respond to inquiries.

    After arriving in Sichuan, the torch is scheduled to make seven stops there, including the town of Mianyang.

    About 1,000 students and teachers were buried and feared dead when a high school collapsed in neighboring Beichuan, located about 35 kilometres away.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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