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Olympic Torch Relay Chaotic in San Francisco

Richard Gonzales: Protests on the Route
Anni Chung: Preparing to Carry the Torch

A man carrying a Tibetan flag is attacked by pro-China supporters awaiting the start of the Olympic torch relay on Wednesday in San Francisco.
Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
A man carrying a Tibetan flag is attacked by pro-China supporters awaiting the start of the Olympic torch relay on Wednesday in San Francisco.

The Olympic torch relay got off to a chaotic start in San Francisco on Wednesday, when the torchbearer was routed away from thousands who turned out to cheer and protest the flame's journey to Beijing.

The flame disappeared from view for about 30 minutes when the first torchbearer ran into a warehouse near the waterfront after the opening ceremony. It reappeared about a mile from its expected location.

Before the opening ceremony, San Francisco police had announced the relay's six-mile route would be cut in half. They did not offer an immediate explanation, but city officials had warned they might shorten the route for security reasons.

Security Tight

Crowds began to gather early in the day at San Francisco's McCovey Cove, where the Olympic torch was scheduled to make its North American debut.

The torch's circuitous travel around the globe has already has been marked by demonstrations against China's policies toward Tibet and Sudan, and more demonstrations are expected worldwide before it reaches the Summer Games.

San Francisco officials said police officers were backed up by other Bay Area police departments, the California Highway Patrol and the FBI in an effort to keep Olympic runners and bystanders safe, while protecting the protesters' right to free speech.

Nearly 80 torchbearers had prepared to carry the Olympic flame along the route past hordes of protesters and counterprotesters.

Ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes, who was to be one of the torch runners, said the city had taken the proper precautions to protect runners.

Karnazes said city officials reassured participants that law enforcement would work with the State Department and international authorities to avoid a repeat of the chaotic demonstrations in Paris and London. He said the actual relay route would be kept secret as long as possible.

Protesters, Supporters Turn Out

Violent protests in Paris and London prompted several San Francisco torchbearers to drop out.

San Francisco is the only stop for the torch in North America. The city was chosen to host the relay, in part, because of its large Chinese-American population.

Many San Francisco residents have asked for calm and expressed their pride that China was chosen to host the Olympics.

Chinese officials have dismissed previous demonstrations as the actions of a few who are trying to hijack a historical event for their own purposes.

The International Olympic Committee is considering whether to cancel the rest of the torch's world tour.

From NPR and wire reports

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