April 9th, 2008 03:05 EST
Only U.S. appearance of Olympic Torch is Today
By Mike O'Sullivan
Protests and a candlelight vigil are taking place in San Francisco, where the Olympic torch is scheduled to pass through Wednesday on the only U.S. stop of its intercontinental relay. Protesters are focusing on a variety of issues to draw attention to China's human rights record.
A member of the Uighur minority group from the Xinjiang section of Western China was scheduled to address a panel in one of many events that marked the arrival of the Olympic torch Tuesday . Other protests are drawing attention to China's persecution of the Falun Gong religious group and China's support of Sudan, despite accusations of war crimes against the East African country. Tuesday night, the actor Richard Gere and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu were scheduled to attend a rally and prayer vigil to draw attention to China's recent bloody crackdown in Tibet.
John Ackerly, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, says the event will highlight China's refusal to open Tibet to the world's media. "I think if they were to open up Tibet to the media, if they were to allow independent observers to go, if they were to provide transparency and an accounting of those killed and arrested....", he said.
He says those steps would reassure the world that China takes human rights seriously.
Mona Cadena of the San Francisco office of Amnesty International says the human rights group is concerned with China's use of the death penalty, punitive detention without a fair trial, harassment of dissenters and extensive Internet censorship.
She says China promised to improve its human rights when it was awarded the Olympics, and that the protests surrounding the Olympic torch relay are sending a message - or rather, several messages.
"In some cases, the messages are to the Chinese government. In some cases, the messages are to the International Olympic Committee. Amnesty International believes that the International Olympic Committee has a responsibility to hold China to the commitments that it made to get the Olympics. So I think there are a lot of different targets over the next couple of days," he said.
In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Tuesday that President Bush will continue to press China on human rights, press freedom and political freedom. Mr. Bush plans to attend the Beijing Olympics, which are scheduled for August 8-24, although the White House has not said which events he will attend.
"The president can always make a change, 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," he said.
There have been widespread protests along the torch's 136-day route across five continents, the most recent before San Francisco in London and Paris. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the protesters are using the torch relay to put on a political show.
The San Francisco activists say politics and human rights cannot be separated from the Olympics. Pro-Tibet protesters say they worry that a leg of the torch relay through Tibet in June could lead to a further violent crackdown by Chinese authorities.
The International Olympic Committee will consider ending the international portion of the torch relay because of the protests.