SAN FRANCISCO -- On the same day
activists scaled the Golden
Gate Bridge protesting China's policies in Tibet,
presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., called on President Bush to boycott the opening ceremony for this summer's Beijing Olympics.
In making her statement Monday, Clinton cited China's reaction to recent protests in Tibet and its lack of action in the troubling Darfur region of the Sudan.
"The violent clashes in Tibet and the failure of the Chinese government to use its full leverage with Sudan to stop the genocide in Darfur are opportunities for Presidential leadership," Clinton said in a statement. "These events underscore why I believe the Bush administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy towards China. At this time, and in light of recent events, I believe President Bush should not plan on attending the opening ceremonies in Beijing, absent major changes by the Chinese government."
Clinton's Democratic presidential rival, Barack Obama, said
he too was disturbed by events in Tibet and had communicated
his concerns to Bush. But the Illinois senator stopped short of
calling for the president to skip the opening ceremonies in
"The Chinese government must take immediate steps to
respect the dignity, security, human rights and religious
freedom of the Tibetan people," Obama said. "If they do not,
there should be consequences."
In San Francisco on Monday,
three protestors hung banners from the bridge's cables just two days before the arrival
of the Olympic torch in the city.
"They are doing it at all the landmarks in the cities that
are hosting the Olympic torch," said Tenzing Dasang, a member
of Students for a Free Tibet, an activist group which he said
planned the action.
Wearing helmets and safety gloves, the three apparently
experienced climbers hung the banners between three parallel
red cables after a careful ascent. Two helpers below on the
bridge were later detained, Dasang said.
"One World, One Dream: Free Tibet," read one of two
banners, protesting China's recent crackdown on Tibet. A second
sign read "Free Tibet 08." Several smaller Tibetan flags
fluttered in the wind.
With the Olympic torch relay headed to San Francisco on Wednesday and with thousands of protesters also expected, USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth is cutting short his stay at the Olympic meetings in Beijing to return to the United States, according to USA Today.
"They have a right to peacefully assemble and express their point of view, which we respect," Ueberroth told the newspaper. "Similarly, the rights of those who have been selected to participate in the torch relay should also be respected."
Ueberroth will be the senior USOC official in San Francisco, according to the report.
With the protesters still on the bridge, Mary Ziegenbien, a spokeswoman with the California Highway Patrol, said authorities would not try to go get the protesters out of concern for their safety.
"We don't want to put their lives in danger by going and grabbing them off the suspension cables right now," she said.
Police cars with flashing lights waited nearby, although
slow traffic continued on the bridge connecting San Francisco
with Marin County. Coast Guard vessels patrolled below.
"They went up pretty quick," said Herb Zacks, a 36-year-old
cabinetmaker who was driving into San Francisco on the bridge
when the three started the climb. "They must have got up in
about 20 minutes."
"I think this is just a preview. I think there will be a
lot more than this city is prepared for."
Reached by cell phone as he dangled from the bridge, demonstrator Laurel Sutherlin said he was worried that the torch's planned route through Tibet would lead to more arrests and Chinese officials would use force to stifle dissent.
"The leaders of China have said they'll maintain order at all costs, and we know what that means -- bloodshed and violent oppression," he said. "If the IOC allows the torch to proceed into Tibet they'll have blood on their hands."
The protesters later climbed down.
In all, seven were charged with conspiracy and causing a public nuisance, with the three climbers facing additional charges of trespassing, said Ziegenbien.
The bridge protest's organizers said they'll remain faithful to their mission of protesting without violence when the torch relay takes place Wednesday here, its only North American stop, despite the disruptive action on the Golden Gate.
They said they wanted to take full advantage of the moment in the international spotlight to get their message out.
"This is a life or death situation for Tibetans," said Yangchen Lhamo, an organizer of Monday's banner hanging who is on the board of directors of Students for a Free Tibet.
San Francisco, where nearly a third of the population is of
Asian origin, is the only U.S. city to host the Olympic torch
this year and is expected to experience a wave of protests in
the coming days.
Earlier in the day in Paris, Chinese officials called off a
chaotic relay of the torch after thousands of pro-Tibet
protesters tried to block its path and the flame had to be
extinguished five times.
According to the Web site of the group Students for a Free
Tibet, other protesters hung a large banner with the same
message off London's Westminster Bridge over the weekend before
the Olympic torch run there.
The State Department said it was working to support local San Francisco officials in security preparations for the torch relay.
When asked if similar protests in San Francisco would be an embarrassment for the United States, spokesman Sean McCormack said, "I don't think it's an embarrassment to allow people to freely express themselves in a peaceful way."
"But that said, the people who are organizing this event have a right for it to be able to take place."
About 80 torchbearers will carry the flame on a six-mile route along the San Francisco Bay.
On Monday, government and law enforcement conferred in last-minute preparations to keep rallies under control.
City leaders watched events around the world to develop a plan striking a balance between protesters' rights to express their views and San Francisco's ability to host a safe torch ceremony on Wednesday.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and the police department said they reserved the right to adjust the flame's route if necessary. The air space above the city will be restricted during the relay, a federal aviation spokesman said.
Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for Newsom, dismissed rumors that the relay would be canceled. Newsom met with Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong on Monday afternoon to discuss security measures for the relay, Ballard said.
"It was a good meeting and they discussed their shared desire to try to limit the kind of chaos that we have seen in London and Paris," he said.
U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth said in a statement the event was "an important moment for the city to show its character, hospitality and commitment to peace and tolerance."
"It must provide a proper forum for the peaceful expression of opinions and dissent. And it must safely and respectfully welcome the flame and honor the U.S. athletes and other participants who will carry the torch," Ueberroth said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who did not plan to attend the torch ceremony, said he defended protesters' right to "show how displeased they are with what China is doing with Tibet," but does not support a boycott of the games' opening ceremony in China.
"Sports should not be used in order to go and start to do diplomacy," he said.
In spite of preparations, the tumult around flame has left one of the torchbearers worried.
Lorri Coppola, a champion racewalker whose body is being slowly shut down by Lou Gehrig's disease, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, has met with the Dalai Lama in the past, and understands the protesters' motives.
"They are doing it in the free countries because they know what might happen should they try to protest in China!" she wrote by e-mail, as the disease has cost her the ability to speak.
But ALS has left her weak, and she's afraid of getting hurt if activists are out of control.
"I am concerned about my safety as I am not as strong as others due to ALS," she wrote. "To create damage to property or danger to other people is just as bad as the human rights violations they are protesting."
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.