SAN FRANSISCO -- With the Olympic torch making its only North American appearance in San Francisco today, this city is bracing for an incendiary protest by thousands opposed to Olympics host China's treatment of Tibet protests.
The police department canceled vacations and called in help from federal, state and local authorities. The city has the largest Chinese population outside of China.
Authorities say they're prepared to prevent melees centering on the torch which is intended to represent world peace and unity like those this week in Europe by people protesting China's human rights violations in Tibet and elsewhere.
Eighty runners, selected by the city and the corporate sponsors of the international relay Coca-Cola Co., Samsung and Lenovo plan to carry the torch under close guard by local authorities and a blue-clad Chinese paramilitary "flame protection unit."
Mayor Gavin Newsom, after conferring with Chinese officials, has said the city may alter the planned six-mile route along the city's waterfront in a last-minute attempt to prevent problems.
The torch arrived at San Francisco International Airport early Tuesday under cover of darkness and heavy security. It was stored at an undisclosed location.
Future torch relays may be curtailed
Beijing The International Olympic Committee will review plans for the remainder of the Beijing Olympic torch relay and consider scrapping the international portion of the event for future games.
IOC officials expressed concern Tuesday about the disruption caused by anti-Chinese protests during the relay in Paris and London and braced for more potential trouble during the leg through San Francisco today.
IOC President Jacques Rogge said the committee's executive board would discuss the future of the Beijing relay on Friday. He did not rule out the option of suspending or scrapping part of the relay, although most Olympic officials are opposed to such a move and Beijing organizers have vowed to go to the end.
The torch relay has been disrupted in Greece; Istanbul, Turkey; London and Paris by protesters opposed to China's policies in Tibet and overall human rights record.
The 85,000-mile trek began March 24 at Ancient Olympia in Greece. The 21-stop, six-continent tour is expected to end in mainland China on May 4. The Olympics start Aug. 8.
Bush's Beijing plan appears uncertain
Washington The White House, offering somewhat mixed signals Tuesday, left open the possibility that President Bush could skip the Opening Ceremony when he goes to Beijing in August for the Summer Olympics.
Spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush still plans to attend the Games but noted that no schedule has been set on exactly what events would be on his itinerary.
"The president can always make a change," she said. "But the president has been clear that this is a sporting event for the athletes, and that pressuring China before, during and after the Olympics is the best way for us to try to help people across the board in China, not just Tibetans."
Special China cops attend the flame
Beijing Wondering who those people are who surround the Olympic torch wearing bright blue tracksuits? Beijing Olympic organizers call them "flame attendants." But a military bearing hints at their true pedigree: paramilitary police sent by Beijing to guard the Olympic flame during its journey around the world.
Torchbearers have criticized the security detail for aggressive behavior, and a top London Olympics official simply called them "thugs."
Members of the "29th Olympic Games Torch Relay Flame Protection Unit" as the squad is officially known were picked from special police units of the People's Armed Police, China's internal security force. Paramilitary corps are usually chosen for skills in martial arts, marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat.
The training for the Olympic flame detail included daily mountain runs of at least six miles and lessons in protocol. They also learned basic commands such as "go," "step back," "speed up" and "slow down" in English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese, the China News Service said.
Visas restricted until Games end
Hong Kong Chinese authorities have stopped issuing multiple-entry visas and slowed visa processing in Hong Kong, a major gateway to the mainland, until after the Beijing Olympics, local travel agents said Tuesday.
The Chinese foreign ministry, however, denied there was any change in policy.
Chinese officials may have ordered the restrictions on the multiple-entry visas, which can be valid for up to three years, to keep tighter watch on tourists before the Olympics, some of the travel agents said. The agents said they received their information from Chinese visa officials in cities including Hong Kong and Shenzhen.Cox California bureau reporter Bob Keefe, Washington bureau reporter Ken Herman and news services