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The Olympic torch run this afternoon in San Francisco is expected to draw thousands of supporters and protesters. Both groups are gathering now, with the story expected to develop throughout the day.
10:30 a.m.: At the corner of Third and Embarcadero outside of AT&T park, there were chants of “Go China Go” and Chinese flags from one corner and chants of “Free Tibet Now” and Tibetan flags from the opposite corner. Then the pro-Tibet contingent crossed the street. There was a brief shouting match as both groups headed toward McCovey Cove to position themselves for the opening torch run ceremonies, but after a few minutes, police separated the groups.
Police on ski boats are patrolling the cove and helicopters are flying overhead.
Also flying overhead was a plane pulling a banner for another international cause: Free Burma.
10:25 a.m.: A protester standing on a concrete block at One Embarcadero Center across from the Ferry Building is holding a sign the reads “Stop the killing in Tibet.” She is yelling out the same words and “educate yourself,” as about 20 people surround her holding Chinese and Olympic flags and yelling back.
10:22 a.m.: At the Caltrain station on Fourth Street about 100 people, some waiving a large People’s Republic of China flag, are making their way down to McCovey Cove for the relay’s start.
They are chanting “Go China Go” and “Go Olympics” as they make their way through city streets. The group is also carrying a large red banner that reads: Friendship, Solidarity, Fair Play.
About a block from the station, the group ran into a group of Tibetan protesters. Nearly 100 of them gathered on the sidewalk near the cove. Their large sign counters that of the pro-China ralliers. “Don’t belive China’s Olympic lie,” it reads.
10:00 a.m.: At McCovey Cove near AT&T Park, where the relay is set to begin at 1 p.m., torch supporters waving Chinese flags are filling Parking Lot A and lining the route.
Among them is Xiaohui Li, 27, a Santa Barbara software engineeer who along with three friends drove all night attend the relay to show support for the games.
Li said she loves her country, which she left three years ago for school and then work in the United States. Her hometown of Shenyang in northeastern China will be the site of the soccer matches during the games.
Li said she applied to return home to volunteer during the games, but hasn’t gotten a response to her request.
9:20 a.m.: Olympic torch protesters began showing up about 7:45 a.m., and are now filling Ferry Park.
Jigdol Ngawang, one of the leaders of SF Team Tibet said “Some of these guys with Chinese flags are waving them in our faces. I’ve asked the police for assistance. Our struggle for 50 years has been non-violent. Our weapon has always been the truth. We’ve telling our people to be non-vioent. We can’t guarantee our people won’t react with vioence when the Chinese come at them.”
He said that since Tuesday afternoon, the Team Tibet’s phone numbers, which were listed on the groups’ Web site, have been jammed with thousands of inappropriate and obscene messages, making the phones useless. “I don’t know who are doing it, the Chinese government or individuals.”
Thepo Tulku, another member of SF Team Tibet, said China has failed to improve human rights in the country. “We don’t want the torch to go through Tibet, we don’t believe the torch is a symbol of peace.”
Police moved pro-Chinese demonstrators who began gathering around the same time a block away to Justin Herman Plaza, where the closing ceremonies are planned.
Among them is Ping Ng, 37, a Sunnyvale software engineer who took the day off to support the torch. He said he expected about 1,000 other high-tech workers to join him. “We hope it will be peaceful today and everyone enjoys the games and that they will be successful,” Ng said. “The Olympics are a bridge of friendship between China and the United States and I feel disgusted when there are violent protests against the games. This is a proud time for China, not a time to protest.”
9:10 a.m.: At the Palo Alto Caltrain stop, a train from San Jose to San Francisco was standing room only with people heading up to the torch relay. There were some protesters, but many more appeared to be Chinese Americans supporting the torch run. They were wearing red and some were carrying banners with the Beijing Olympic slogan: “One World, One Dream.”
8:45 a.m.: Three bus loads of mostly Chinese Americans headed to San Francisco this morning to perform a time-honored Chinese cultural tradition – Tai Chi.
The group was invited to perform at Justin Herman Plaza as part of the Olympic torch relay event this afternoon.
The fluid quiet exercise is expected to be in sharp contract to the protesters expected to attend the event, some whom are bringing loud speakers with them.
The two groups were already evident from the start of their trip to San Francisco. As the Tai Chi demonstrators climbed onto three buses at the Stanford Shopping Center this morning, two bus loads of protesters, many with with loudspeakers and banners, were gathering nearby.
“We’ve very quiet,” said James Chin, a Tai Chi instructor who helped organize the trip.
He explained that Tai Chi is all about the yin and the yang, the internal and the external, the hard and the soft. Chin said he knows that the protests in Justin Herman Plaza are going to be “hectic,” but the Tai Chi performance will be a sharp contrast.
“Essentially we’re here to celebrate the torch relay,” said Chin, who was born in New York to Chinese parents, but now lives in the Bay Area. He said his purpose is not political and believes the Olympics should be about the athletes. “My purpose is to celebrate our cultural heritage.”