SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) — An unprecedented security blanket will be draped across San Francisco for the US leg of the Olympic flame's global relay here Wednesday amid worldwide condemnation of China's crackdown in Tibet and its human rights record ahead of the summer games in Beijing.
Several hundred police officers are expected to line the streets for the appearance of the torch, which has been trailed by protesters since it was lit in Greece a week ago at the start of a 85,000-mile, 21-country journey.
A San Francisco Police Department spokesman said security for the relay would be noticeably tighter than previous appearances of the torch in the city in 1992 and 1996.
"I can confirm that we are taking additional and different security measures to those that we have used in for past torch runs in San Francisco," Sergeant Neville Gittens told AFP.
Although he would not reveal the numbers of police to be deployed on Wednesday, Gittens added: "We are going to have a lot more than in the past because of all the events surrounding the torch."
British police made 30 arrests as they battled to keep pro-Tibet protesters away from the Olympic flame as it stopped off in London.
There were continual scuffles along the route as members of the relay team of renowned British athletes, pop stars and television personalities handed over the flame to the next runner.
In San Francisco meanwhile, around 200 rights activists warmed up for Wednesday's event by holding their own "human rights torch relay."
"Our message is that the Olympic torch and crimes against humanity cannot co-exist," organizer Steve Ispas told AFP prior to the event.
Anxiety about possible protests on Wednesday has already resulted in the torch's route through San Francisco, where around one third of the population is Asian, being drastically altered.
Initially the flame was expected to include stops on the city's iconic Golden Gate Bridge and a trademark cable car before it was reduced to a six-mile (9.6 km) loop along the waterfront.
A proposed stop in Chinatown was also cancelled, with officials citing safety concerns given the congested neighborhood's busy, narrow streets.
Anger over China's actions in Tibet and the jailing on Thursday of dissident Hu Jia have been building in San Francisco, where the city's political leadership passed a symbolic resolution last week to greet the Olympic torch with "alarm and protest."
Protests are also expected by activists from the Falun Gong spiritual movement as well as critics of China's positions on Taiwan, Sudan and Myanmar.
A billboard along a main highway to San Francisco bears a freshly posted message: "Stand up for Tibet, say 'No' to China's bloody torch."
Committee of 100 (C100) for Tibet, the group behind the billboard, is using the Internet to rally people nationwide to join in a "Tibetans Freedom Torch" relay and march in San Francisco on Tuesday.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and actor Richard Gere are to attend the pro-Tibet demonstration, during which a "freedom torch" that has shadowed the Olympic torch will be carried to the Chinese consulate here.
A candlelight vigil will be held on the eve of the Olympic torch's visit and C100 has a permit to demonstrate along the torch run route.
Officials at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco are downplaying the protests, saying that most of the Chinese community is proud Beijing is hosting the games.
"The Olympics are a major event for people worldwide and an important platform for peoples to enhance friendship, exchanges and cooperation," Chinese consulate spokesperson Jiang Yu said at a press conference.
"Disrupting and undermining the torch relay which belongs to the people worldwide is a flagrant provocation of the Olympic spirit and charter and a brazen challenge to the people around the world."
San Francisco Chinese community leader Rose Pak has publically questioned whether countries castigating China's human rights records have the moral authority to do so and says Chinese-Americans proudly welcome the torch.
Lobbying from Tibet supporters worried China's plans for a torch run in Tibet will spark violence have convinced San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom to share their concerns with visiting members of the Olympic committee.
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