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No More Relays?

DW staff (dc)April 8, 2008

After a disastrous Olympic torch run in Paris where huge protests caused the flame to be doused five times, the relay is set to continue in San Francisco. But Olympic officials hint the tradition might be abandoned.

Protesters in San Francisco
Protesters were out in force in San FranciscoImage: AP

Protests over Olympic host China's human rights record were in full swing even before the Olympic torch touched down in San Francisco on Tuesday, April 8. On Monday, three activists climbed the city's famous Golden Gate Bridge to hang huge pro-Tibet banners.

San Francisco's mayor, Gavin Newsom, said he was anticipating security problems, and that the route for the torch relay would be subject to last minute changes if need be.

Meanwhile, Olympic officials in Beijing hinted for the first time at the option of abandoning subsequent legs of the torch relay.

Last torch relay?

Jacques Rogge
IOC President, Belgian Jacques Rogge

IOC President Jacques Rogge said he was saddened by the protests in London and Paris around the torch relay for the Beijing Games but did not want to join speculation on the future of the symbolic event.

He confirmed that officials would discuss the relay in meetings planned this week after the disruptive protests in London and Paris.

"We will discuss this and we will see what we have to do now that we have had six or seven legs," Rogge told reporters. "We will see what kind of conclusions we have to take from that."

According to reports by the German news agency DPA, officials have already determined that, in future, there will no longer be an international torch relay.

Anger over China's actions in Tibet

Pro-Tibet activists have determinedly shadowed the torch from the moment it was lit in Greece on March 24. The demonstrators accuse the Chinese government of violating human rights during its crackdown on protests in Tibet that began on March 10 and spread to other areas of China with Tibetan populations.

Exiled Tibetan leaders say more than 150 people have been killed in the unrest, triggered by what Tibetans say has been nearly 60 years of repression under Chinese rule.

Delegates attend the IOC Executive Board Meeting held in Beijing, Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Delegates at an IOC meeting in Beijing on Tuesday condemned the protestsImage: AP

Chinese officials have balked at the prospect of cutting short the most ambitious torch relay ever staged. The torch is due to visit 19 countries plus China along a 137,000 kilometer (85,000 mile) journey.

"The disruption and sabotage of the torch relay is a challenge to the spirit of the Olympic charter, the world laws, and peace-loving people around the world," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.

France hints at boycott

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday that France's participation in the Olympic Games would be linked to China starting talks with exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.

"It is according to the resumption of this dialogue that I will determine the conditions of our participation," he said.

Security men tackle a protester as an athlete carries the torch at the beginning of its relay from the first floor of the Eiffel tower in Paris
The torch relay in Paris was dogged by protestsImage: AP

"The Dalai Lama himself is not asking for a boycott of the Olympic Games but now it is necessary that they talk and that we avoid the Olympic flame being taken hostage by matters that are extremely worrying," he said on a trip to the southwestern French town of Cahors.

German parliament to debate on Thursday

On Thursday, Germany's parliamentarians will have the opportunity to discuss the torch relay in the presence of invited guest, Manfred von Richthofen, honorary president of the German Olympic Sports Association. In an interview with public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, Richthofen described the torch relay to China as an "embarrassing spectacle."

"I'm very sorry for both sides, but you have to ask yourself whether this torch relay makes any sense when it comes to the preparations for the Olympics," he said.