Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Olympic Torch 2008

It was the decoy of the decade. The day the Olympic Torch came to San Francisco - without being seen!

Even the media were fooled. The Opening Ceremony was held and then, under the eyes of thousands including news helicopters, the Torch disappeared! It emerged unseen inside the city having been spirited away either in a motorcade or by boat across the Bay.

The 80 Torchbearers ran along unlined streets inside the city and near the Golden Gate Bridge, driven to the various running spots. Police and Chinese para-militaries, in the blue and white jogger suits seen in London and Paris, ran alongside them. Then the Closing Ceremony was held in a terminal at San Francisco airport miles away on the outskirts of the city.

Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators spent the day lining and filling the official route from the Giants ball park and up to the Embarcadero where the Torch was due to be received. Campaigners opposing China's human rights record waved placards and banners and engaged in a shouting match with pro-China supporters. Busloads of pro-Chinese people were bussed into the city early this morning and a sea of red flags outnumbered the yellow, red and blue Tibetan flags that have become familiar in the city over the last week. Chinese-costumed dancers also were there. An NBC11 report early this evening put the number of imported Chinese at possibly 11,000.

Mayor Gavin Newsom gave a lengthy interview at the end of the afternoon to a reporter who had been one of the Torchbearers. He hailed the day a success on two counts: 'We protected people's safety and we protected people's rights of free expression. These are San Francisco values,' he said. He also praised the 'courage and candour' of the Torchbearers.

Overall, he felt that the city had 'distinguished itself' as against the fiascos of the Torch run in London and Paris.

A city Supervisor, Aaron Peskin, however, is attacking Mayor Newsom for 'secrecy, lies and misinformation.'

So what happened?

After the Opening Ceremony the first Torchbearer left the platform and ran into a nearby warehouse, away from crowds lining the start of the route! As people waited and waited, eventually a motorcade left the warehouse. But whether the Torch was in it or was ferried by boat across the Bay is uncertain in the immediate aftermath.

But police deserve an Oscar! Standing further down the start of the route, by a narrow bridge at the Giants ballpark, we were in the midst of the charade.

A large contingent of police officers had gathered during the morning near where slanging matches between pro-and-anti demonstrators stood facing each other on opposite sides of the road. And as the Opening Ceremony was due, at 1 pm, police formed several lines across one lane and moved us back off the centre of the bridge. Alongside on the water, police zoomed around on jet skis, a fireboat shot a water salute into the air and police boats sailed on the edge of the cove.

Overhead, at one point we counted six choppers and three planes. And on rooftops police could be seen, although on one pics were being taken in secret as we could only catch an intermittent glimpse of a camera lens poking over a parapet.

Then about half an hour after the Torch was due, a police truck turned up and a small group of police jumped out and donned riot gear. This caused a good distraction as the crowd surged around.

With music drifting across from the loudspeakers at the ceremony platform a few hundred yards away, it all looked and sounded as if Something Was Going to Happen!

It took almost three-quarters of an hour before people began to twig that we had been fooled!
As the crowd began to disperse and wander off peacefully, news organizations began to catch up and cell phones rang. Some idea of the Torch having been in the city percolated through but it took a little longer, mostly I suspect from the early evening broadcasts at 5 pm, for the full extent of the ruse to be rumbled.

But if safety and freedom to protest without arrest were priorities, it was a resounding success. There was plenty of protest action all the way along the route up to the Embarcadero, including a re-enactment of the brutality exercised against the Tibetan monks.

Click for pics. Click to enlarge.

For a more detailed report see later blog, and for more pics.

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