Battle intensifies over SF torch run

March 27, 2008 3:54:12 PM PDT
Two competing resolutions addressing human rights concerns in China when the Olympic torch arrives in San Francisco in two weeks will come before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for a vote Tuesday.

The original resolution, offered by Supervisor Chris Daly, though largely symbolic, urges city representatives to receive the torch on April 9 in San Francisco -- its only North America destination before this summer's Olympics in Beijing -- "with alarm and protest at the failure of China...to cease the egregious and ongoing human rights abuses in China and occupied Tibet."

It was passed this morning by the board's Rules Committee, after being rejected Friday by the board's City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee.

Daly's resolution further calls on Mayor Gavin Newsom to provide access for human rights groups to protest anywhere along the route of the torch run in San Francisco on April 9.

A milder version submitted Friday by Supervisor Carmen Chu would simply welcome the Olympic torch "in the true spirit of Olympism, consistent with the United Nations Charter established in this City, and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Meanwhile, controversy over access by the public and protest groups to the route the torch will take through the city was muted somewhat on Wednesday after the mayor's office responded to a public records request by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Though the mayor's office stated that the exact route along the San Francisco waterfront area is still being determined, officials revealed the opening ceremony is tentatively scheduled to take place at McCovey Cove and the closing ceremony at Justin Herman Plaza, where groups will be allowed to assemble. People will also be allowed to stand on sidewalks along the relay route.

Mayor's office spokesman Nathan Ballard contended today that there never were any restrictions on where protests can occur, though areas will be set aside for larger, organized protest groups whose permits have been approved by the city, he said.

"Make no mistake, the First Amendment is sacred in San Francisco and we are going to do everything we can to ensure that our fundamental right to free speech is respected," Ballard said.

Ballard added, "The mayor is very concerned about the human rights situation in Tibet."

"But the Olympic games are not about politics," Ballard said. "They are about the spirit of international cooperation, and in that spirit, we are proud to host the torch relay."


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