In Paris, Olympic Torch Inflames Protesters

Crowds of anti-China protesters — many chanting "free Tibet" — blocked the Olympic torch relay through the streets of Paris. Eventually, the torch was extinguished and transported by bus, which may hold implications for the torch's arrival in San Francisco Wednesday.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Barack Obama's campaign may work like a successful startup, but he's been taking a lot of flat for his bowling game.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Last month in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Obama had trouble just keeping the ball out of the gutter. Hillary Clinton poked fun out it. She challenged Obama to a bowl-off.

NORRIS: Today, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres gave Clinton a chance to show off her game.

(Soundbite of people screaming)

SIEGEL: Clinton, like Obama, missed badly. On the second try, she took down one pin. It turns out neither Democratic candidate is ready to bowl on day one.

NORRIS: In more serious sporting news, Hillary Clinton said today that President Bush should boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. This after a wild day in Paris where the Olympic torch procession did not go as planned.

(Soundbite of people protesting)

Crowds of protesters, many chanting "free Tibet," blocked the torch procession this morning. There was similar unrest yesterday in London.

Today in Paris, demonstrators clashed with police and threw fruit, bread and other items. The torch itself was extinguished several times and ultimately loaded onto a bus where it was driven for much of the path.

For more, we have Molly Moore. She's a Paris correspondent from the Washington Post and she joins us now from Paris.

Hello, Molly.

Ms. MOLLY MOORE (Paris Correspondent, Washington Post): Happy to be with you.

NORRIS: Now, could you set the scene for us? I understand there was no shortage of security out there for this relay.

Ms. MOORE: It was one of the most extraordinary displays of security Paris has seen in years. There were 3,000 police using every means of transport you can imagine from motorcycles, to rollerblades, to horses. There were security frogmen on boats in the Seine, there were helicopters whirring overhead, and the streets were lined with hundreds of police vans, in body armor and with riot shields and other riot gear.

NORRIS: Any idea how many protesters there were out there, how large this protest was?

Ms. MOORE: You know, it would be almost impossible to tell. This was a 17-mile route, and there were clashes with police all along the way. And, and several times, the officials had to take the flame and put it in a bus, as you mentioned earlier, to get it through the crowd. And what many people marveled at is, despite all this police presence, they couldn't manage to adequately protect the torch carriers.

NORRIS: Molly, can you tell us a little bit about the route.

Ms. MOORE: Sure. The route in several places was going through a relatively narrow street, which was heavily lined with police vans in some areas and barriers in some areas. But in other areas, there were bottlenecks with pro-China protesters on one side of the street, pro-Tibet protesters on the other side of the street. And in many cases, especially the pro-Tibet protesters just made lunges for the bubble that the torch carrier was in, and he was surrounded by six Chinese security guards plus a cadre of about a dozen French police on rollerblades. And so, very frequently throughout the route, you had protesters - sometimes even just one or two lunging into the narrow street. And in two cases, they almost extinguished the flame, but officials in the end, themselves, put out the flame or turned it very low and put it inside the bus to protect the torch and the torch bearers.

NORRIS: Now, the torch is coming to this country, to San Francisco, on Wednesday. Is there any indication that there might be more protests?

Ms. MOORE: Absolutely. And in fact, some Olympic committee officials today were raising the question of whether these torch relays should continue because, of course, San Francisco is particularly vulnerable because there's such a large Chinese and Asian community in San Francisco with obviously very divided opinions on the situation in Tibet and China. So, officials are very concerned about what could happen there.

NORRIS: Molly Moore, thanks so much for talking to us.

Ms. MOORE: It's a pleasure.

NORRIS: Molly Moore is the Paris correspondent for the Washington Post.

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Paris Olympic Torch Relay Cut Short by Protests

French former tennis player Arnaud Di Pasquale reacts as he carries an extinguished torch.

hide captionFrench former tennis player (center) Arnaud Di Pasquale reacts as he carries an extinguished Beijing Olympics flame in Paris on his way to place the torch in a bus for safety amid pro-Tibet protests.

Police in the French capital said Monday that the last part of the Olympic torch relay in the city had been cancelled after they were forced to douse the symbolic flame several times and carry it in a bus to avoid anti-China protesters.

The announcement followed a day in which the police were forced to play a game of cat-and-mouse with protesters in an effort to keep them at bay as the relay took place.

Security officials in Paris extinguished the Olympic torch five separate times on Monday, frequently hustling it aboard a bus to protect it from protesters.

Despite massive security, at least two activists got within almost an arm's length of the flame before they were grabbed by police. Officers tackled many protesters and carried off some of them. A protester threw water at the torch but failed to extinguish it and was also taken away.

France's former sports minister, Jean-Francois Lamour, stressed that, though the torch was put out aboard the bus, the Olympic flame itself still burned in the lantern where it is kept overnight and on airplane flights.

"The torch has been extinguished, but the flame is still there," Lamour told France Info radio.

The torch, en route to the Beijing games, has been the focus of intense protests in Europe over China's recent crackdown in Tibet. Over the weekend, the relay ferrying the Olympic symbol to Beijing encountered similar protests in London.

At the start of the relay in Paris, a man identified as a Green Party activist was grabbed by security officers as he headed for 1997 400-meter world champion Stephane Diagana, the president of France's national athletics league, who was carrying the torch from the first floor of the Eiffel Tower.

The procession continued but, soon after, a crowd of activists waving Tibetan flags interrupted it by confronting the torchbearer. The flame was put out by security officers and brought aboard a bus to continue along the route.

Less than an hour later, the flame was being carried out of a Paris traffic tunnel by an athlete in a wheelchair when the procession was halted by anti-China activists. The torch was again put out and placed aboard a bus.

The procession, guarded by about 3,000 police — riding motorcycles, jogging or traveling on skates — was interrupted two other times.

In London on Sunday, police repeatedly scuffled with protesters. One tried to grab the torch, while another tried to snuff out the flame with what appeared to be a fire extinguisher. Thirty-seven people were arrested.

From NPR staff and wire reports.

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