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San Francisco Braces For Torch Protests

by @ 9:15 am on April 9, 2008. Filed under 2008 Summer Olympics, China, Foreign Affairs

It’s just after 6am in San Francisco as I write this, and the city is bracing for protests as the Olympic Torch relay begins:

SAN FRANCISCO — The Olympic torch arrived at the airport here from Paris in the wee hours Tuesday morning, exited out a side door and was escorted by motorcade to a downtown hotel. There it took a well-deserved break in a room complete with cable TV, room service and views of the city’s popular Union Square shopping district.

“It has very comfortable accommodations,” said Mike McCarron, an airport spokesman, who said the flame — ensconced in a handsome brass lantern and accompanied by several backup flames — was “treated similar to a head of state.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the flame will be under no such bushel as it makes its only appearance in the United States on an increasingly tense international tour en route to Beijing. It will star in a two-and-a-half-hour relay along this city’s waterfront, involving six miles of pavement, 79 runners and untold scores of law enforcement officials.

The precise route remained in flux on Tuesday as the torch extravaganza threatened to become more civic migraine than celebration in the face of potential protests by those upset with China’s human rights record and recent crackdown in Tibet. Mayor Gavin Newsom met with police and relay officials amid concerns that disruptions in London and Paris this week not be repeated here.

“I can only confirm that the route is dynamic,” said Nathan Ballard, a city spokesman.

The San Francisco Police Department canceled days off for patrol officers and called in state and federal agencies and officers from nearby cities to help patrol the relay route. A no-fly zone was established overhead, the Coast Guard beefed up its fleet and Bay Area police planned on a pair of motorized water scooters patrolling the waterways.

Downtown buildings also stepped up security, and restaurants along the route pulled in — rather than pulled out — patio seating. Sources of anxiety were everywhere: protests atop tourist attractions, famous and not-so-famous Tibet supporters and, of course, the city’s lunatic fringe.

“We got monks tomorrow, Desmond Tutu and Richard Gere here today, and a nude torch relay in the works,” Mr. Ballard said. “And I have no hope of leaving here without tripping over hundreds of members of the foreign media. I’ll tell you one thing: it won’t be boring.”

A nude torch relay ? Well, this is San Francisco so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that.

The one thing about this protest that we can all be thankful for is that it shows the sheer ridiculousness of this torch fetishism. A private hotel room with a view ? For a freaking flame ?

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