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World: Olympic Torch Protests Continue As IOC Ponders Next Move

The Dalai Lama, on a visit to Tokyo, said he supports holding the Games in Beijing (AFP) The presence of the Olympic torch has caused an uproar in San Francisco, the latest stop in the torch's around-the-world relay. Anti-Chinese demonstrators in the western U.S. city sought to draw attention to Tibet and the Darfur crisis.

City authorities sought to outwit the protesters waiting along the relay route by changing the route at short notice. The strategy succeeded in avoiding the type of dramatic clashes that occurred between police and demonstrators in London and Paris, but it meant that the torch slipped through the back streets of the city, unseen by the thousands of spectators who had turned out to watch its progress.

That's another bitter pill for China to swallow, and the damage to the Olympic ideals won't end there. Both New Delhi in India and Jakarta in Indonesia, which the torch is scheduled to pass through soon, are taking special precautions, and Jakarta authorities have drastically shortened the planned relay route.

No Plans To Halt Relay

China's leaders are adamant that the relay must continue to its end in Beijing, despite the scenes of chaos that it has provoked. And International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge says there are no plans to stop the round-the-world relay because of the protests.

"This scenario is definitely not on the agenda," he said. "We are studying together with BOCOG (Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games) measures to improve the torch relay. But there is no scenario of either interrupting or bringing [the torch] back directly to Beijing."

Rogge also addressed the issue of involvement of Olympic sportsmen and women in the political protests. He told reporters that free speech is a fundamental right, but said participants should not try to politicize the games.

"The IOC is adamant that the participants at the Olympic Games may express their opinions. These expressions of opinions and the conduct of participants should be inspired by the full compliance with the Olympic charter. And in the Olympic charter, you have the Rule 51.3 that says that 'no kind of demonstrations, of political, religious, or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic site, venue, or areas.'"

So far, there have been no calls for athletes to boycott the Games. But political leaders are under pressure not to attend the opening ceremony. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has already said he will not attend, and French President Nicholas Sarkozy is pondering also staying away.

In Washington, Democratic Party presidential hopeful Barack Obama has added his voice to those calling on U.S. President George W. Bush not to go to the ceremony. Obama said China first should help end the "genocide" in Darfur, and respect the human rights of the Tibetan people.

Bush Appeals To Beijing

Obama's comments come after a similar call from his rival for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, Hillary Clinton. Bush on April 9 issued the most pointed appeal to Beijing since the Olympic controversy came to a head last month.

"It would stand the Chinese government in good stead if they would begin a dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama," Bush said. "If they ever were to reach out to the Dalai Lama, they'd find him to be a really fine man, a peaceful man, a man who is antiviolence, a man who is not for independence but for the cultural identity of the Tibetans being maintained."

Beijing has consistently blamed the Dalai Lama for the disturbances in and around Tibet. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader denies he is trying to sabotage the Olympics, as he reiterated today during a visit to Tokyo.

"Right from the beginning, I support [the] Chinese [as] host of famous world games because China is the most populous nation, an ancient nation," he said. "Therefore, it is really deserving for the Chinese people to [be] host of the Olympic Games."

But he also said protesters have the right to free expression. "Nobody has the right to say, 'Shut up," he said in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, to add to the drama, the Chinese authorities said today they have uncovered a plot to kidnap athletes and foreign journalists during the Games. The Ministry of Public Security said 35 people have been arrested. It claimed that the banned Uygher organization the East Turkestan Islamic Movement was behind the alleged plot.