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Olympic Torch Relay Puts Chinese Policies in Focus

China is facing increasing scrutiny for many of its policies as the Summer Games in Beijing draw closer -- and protesters have seized the Olympic torch's current global tour as a platform to voice opposition to China's rule of Tibet, among other issues. Two analysts discuss the protests.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The Olympic torch adds fuel to the ongoing clashes between the Chinese government and human rights activists. NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reports on today's developments in San Francisco.

    SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour correspondent: Protesters were back on the Golden Gate Bridge today, as the big demonstration around the Olympic torch got underway in San Francisco.

    Even before the relay run began, China's supporters and those critical of the Chinese scuffled at different points along the route.

    The torch's appearance in San Francisco was the only North American stop on a global tour. Activists from both sides were out on the streets.

  • TIBETAN PROTESTER:

    The Chinese government in Tibet, they're killing our Tibetans, innocent Tibetans.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    We also found throngs of pro-Chinese supporters, some local, some from China.

  • PRO-CHINA SUPPORTER:

    I come here just to show my support to the Beijing Olympic Games.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    Throughout the week, the demonstrators were decrying China's role in Sudan and Darfur and its latest crackdown in Tibet, as well as its policies toward dissent.

    Last night, actor Richard Gere and the human rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu attended a vigil near city hall that attracted hundreds of people in support of Tibet.

    The Olympic flame — meant to be a symbol of peace — has instead become a lightning rod for protest throughout its tour. Under cover of darkness, it arrived in San Francisco yesterday morning in a protected lantern and was whisked away to a secret location for safety.

    Runners have been lighting the torch from this so-called "mother flame" in the lantern each time a relay is run.

    That flame has ignited clashes this week in London and Paris, where the runners were assaulted and the flame was extinguished five times during its 18-mile route.

    The momentum of this week's events has caught San Francisco officials by surprise. What they did not anticipate — at least not at first — in this city, with a large Chinese population and a history of demonstrations, was the size and the depth of the protest against China's policies in Tibet and its human rights policies.

    It's all caused San Francisco officials and law enforcement from around the state to increase security. Just before today's relay began, police shortened the relay route even further and changed the start point.

    Hundreds of police were out monitoring the route, and each runner was protected by three layers of security. The FAA has also restricted flights over the city.

    China, which has staked its national pride on this summer's games, has asked protesters to separate sport from politics.

    The International Olympic Committee will meet later this week to determine if the torch should finish out the 13 remaining relays around the world before it tours through China. The next relay is scheduled for Friday in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Late today, after Spencer filed that report, San Francisco officials changed the route significantly to avoid crowds and protester, which leads us to this question: How should the international community respond? Margaret Warner picks it up from there.

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