Protesters rally for SF torch arrival

April 5, 2008 7:35:45 PM PDT
Activists inside China say authorities have begun a new crackdown on monks and demonstrators there, killing eight people in recent days. They say China is now forcing Buddhist monks to renounce the Dalai Lama and swear allegiance to Beijing.

China is having limited success keeping the spotlight off Tibet because protestors are shadowing the Olympic torch relay.

It arrived in London on Saturday afternoon as thousands of demonstrators are expected to line the route and several torchbearers have dropped out in protest.

Here in San Francisco, hundreds of people cheered on a human rights torch relay.

Taiko drums sounded out for human rights Saturday in San Francisco's Union Square. About 500 people attended the ceremony for the human rights torch, which arrived in the city Saturday. Organizers say the premise of their torch is that the Olympics and crimes against humanity can not co-exist in China. China had promised to improve the nation's human rights in order to sponsor the 2008 games.

"They promised it to the international community in 2001. The truth of the matter is this has not happened," says Alejandro Centurion of the of the Human Rights Torch Relay.

Instead, human rights activists say abuses have increased in China, especially in Tibet. At least 8 Tibetan protesters were killed when Chinese troops and police opened fire on demonstrators Friday. Tibetan, Thepo Tulko says police are rounding up dissenters and torturing them.

"Police and military go to knock on Tibetan peoples doors and picking up all the people who are speaking out. They have a lot of tortures coming were not going to see on TV."

Representatives with the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco tell us they want people to focus on the spirit of the Olympic Games, rather than on the politics.

But the sponsors of Saturday's relay say that's the point. The human rights and political situation in China has to change.

The human rights torch was lit in Greece last year. San Francisco is just one of the 150 cities in 37 countries the torch is scheduled to go through.

"I understand the German government as well as the Canadian government have talked about having a boycott of the ceremonies, but not boycotting the games, allowing the athletes to compete," says Centurion.

The torch arrived to a cheering crowd and it was handed to 1968 Olympic bronze medal winner John Carlos. He and Tommie Smith used the award ceremony to make a political statement about the plight of Black Americans. He supports this kind of sports activism.

"I think it's very difficult for anybody to think I can go to the Olympic games and be blind to what's happening around me," says Carlos.

Today's activities also centered on the torture and disappearance of Falun Gong practitioners. It's a physical and spiritual practice, now outlawed in China. A march and a 6K run highlighted the torch's arrival. The torch moves on to Los Angeles when it leaves here next week.


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