Clashes threaten future of Olympic torch world relay

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The International Olympic Committee may cancel the rest of the Olympic flame's progress around the world after the wave of anti-China protests in London and Paris and growing nervousness about today's ceremony in San Francisco.

In Beijing, the IOC president, Jacques Rogge, said his executive committee would discuss the matter on Friday, when the flame will still have a dozen cities on its route, starting with Buenos Aires and arriving in Beijing early next month.

"I'm definitely concerned about what has happened in London and in Paris," Mr Rogge told the Associated Press in Beijing. "I'm deeply saddened by the fact that such an important symbol has been attacked. "We recognise the right for people to protest and express their views but it should be non-violent. We are very sad for all the athletes and the people who expected so much from the run and have been spoiled of their joy."

Mr Rogge also confirmed that the IOC is considering scrapping the international relay for future games. The committee's executive board is set to discuss the future of the Beijing relay on Friday. Asked whether the continuation of the international relay was certain, Mr Rogge said: "I'm not saying whether it is certain or not. There will be a discussion of the executive board on the torch relay but I attach on that absolutely no speculation whatsoever."

In London and Paris, protesters challenged torch-bearers with fire extinguishers and clashed with police and Chinese security guards. Yesterday, the Olympic flame arrived in San Francisco masked in the secrecy and security worthy of a bullion consignment at Fort Knox.

The Airbus carrying the flame – called Air China 2008 – landed shortly after 3.30am, a time when the city's pro-Tibet, anti-Beijing protesters were all in bed. Olympic officials, under police guard, paused briefly for photographs then were whisked into the city, where the flame is expected to be kept in a secret place until today's parade.

City authorities say they will provide police escorts for the torch-bearers to avoid a repeat of the trouble in London and Paris, and reserved the right to make last-minute changes to the route.

"I have great expectations that it is going to be a successful event, but I am not naive to the realities of hosting an event where people are very intense on both sides," said San Francisco's mayor, Gavin Newsom.

Mayor Newsom said his staff had watched the protest scenes in London and Paris carefully, and factored the kind of tactics deployed there in their plans. He discussed his security arrangements with the Chinese ambassador to the United States on Monday – a meeting guarded by a thick line of both city and county police officers.

On Monday, three protesters were arrested on the Golden Gate Bridge after hanging a 150-foot banner proclaiming Tibet's right to independence.

"The Olympic spirit is for human rights, for unity, for the dignity of all people, but China has crushed these values," said Ngodup Tsering of theTibetan Association of Northern California. "Our approach is nonviolent ... but we want to expose Beijing. Everywhere this government is involved, there is bloodshed and the denial of freedom."

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