A Lighter Day for Torch in Argentina

By Monte Reel and Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 12, 2008

BUENOS AIRES, April 11 -- The political hot potato that is the Olympic flame passed slowly through Buenos Aires on Friday and, unlike in some other cities, no one got scorched.

Capping a week in which protesters snuffed the torch in Paris and forced organizers to reroute its course in San Francisco, the South American leg of the relay was more festive than disruptive. Small groups of demonstrators held signs decrying human rights abuses in China, but the most serious threats to the torch's progress Friday were a few lobbed water balloons -- easily swatted away by the Chinese security forces that jogged alongside the torch bearers.

In Beijing, meanwhile, the executive board of the International Olympic Committee said that it would review plans for the relay but that there was no scenario in which it would end the torch's world tour early.

The president of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, described the anti-Chinese protests that have overshadowed the relay as a "crisis." But he said the organization would not press China on its crackdown in Tibet or on other political issues, in keeping with the IOC's long-held belief that the Olympics should not be politicized.

"This is the line we do not have to cross," he told reporters.

In Buenos Aires, demonstrator Jorge Carcavallo said he and others were trying to get their message across without inciting the kind of disruptions that marred the relay in London and Paris.

"Between inaction and violence, there are a range of tensions, and we are trying to act within a constructive range of tension -- even if that might be boring," said Carcavallo, who carried a "Free Tibet" sign.

Argentina's history of political repression in the 1970s and early 1980s spawned a strong community of human rights advocates, some of whom demonstrated Friday.

"It's very sad that a country that has experienced the same kinds of human rights violations that are happening now in China has chosen to receive this bloody torch," said Natalia Rodriguez, 25, of Buenos Aires.

More than 5,000 police officers, guards and volunteers provided security for the torch, which was carried by about 80 current and former Argentine athletes.

The Chinese security forces jogging in the relay had previously angered the French and British with heavy-handed tactics. A top Japanese official said Friday that the Chinese forces would not be permitted to oversee security for the torch in Nagano later this month.

"We do not know what position the people who escorted the relay are in," the head of Japan's National Public Safety Commission, Shinya Izumi, told the Kyodo news agency. "If they are for the consideration of security, it is our role."

Chinese citizens have said more could be done to protect the flame. Many are enraged over the assault on Jin Jing, a 28-year-old amputee who uses a wheelchair and who struggled to hang on to the torch in Paris while protesters tried for 15 minutes to take the torch from her.

"France, I thought you were a romantic and beautiful country but now I realize you are ugly and full of rubbish. No country can stop China from being strong and developing," said one anonymous online commentator, even though French police reportedly stepped in to help defend Jin from the protesters.

China, meanwhile, turned down a request by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, to visit Tibet this month to look into the uprising that took place there, according to Chinese officials.

"The Chinese authorities came back to her . . . and said it wouldn't be convenient at this time," Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the commissioner's office, told Reuters. "They said she would be welcome to make a visit at a later date that would be mutually convenient."

Fan reported from Beijing.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company