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Torch relay in San Francisco draws massive protest

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  • NEW: Thousands march to the Chinese consulate ahead of Wednesday's run
  • Torchbearer drops out, fearing protests, official says
  • San Francisco, California, is only U.S. venue on 23-city global tour
  • Demonstrators protest China's Tibet policy in cities along route
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SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) -- Thousands of protesters demonstrated against China's human rights record and its crackdown in Tibet after the Olympic flame arrived in San Francisco Tuesday.

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Pro-Tibetan demonstrators shout outside the Chinese consulate in San Francisco Tuesday.

Chanting and waving flags, the protesters ended their march at the Chinese consulate, where they sat in a dense group, holding flags and banners, as police watched from nearby.

"Stop killing," one sign read, while another said, "No human rights, no Olympics."

The protests came after passionate demonstrations in London and Paris in which protesters tried to snuff the torch's flame and dozens were arrested.

Meanwhile, the Olympic flame was being kept in an undisclosed location in advance of Wednesday's planed 6-mile relay in San Francisco. Video Watch how the city is preparing »

The run is the only U.S. appearance for the flame, wrapping up the first week of a 23-city global tour.

Beijing organizers have said the monthlong international relay will not be stopped despite the protests, but some International Olympic Committee members have suggested an early end should be considered.

The IOC's executive board will discuss the torch relay "in general" Thursday or Friday, but there is no proposal on the agenda to end the global tour early, IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said. Video Watch the flame get the red-carpet treatment »

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The official Beijing Olympics Web site, controlled by the Chinese organizers, gives little indication of any torch relay disruption. It characterizes the demonstrators as "a small number" of Tibetan separatists.

Beijing blames the Dalai Lama and his followers for violence that erupted in March amid protests for Tibetan independence.

China has drawn international criticism for its crackdown on the demonstrations, which began peacefully on the 49th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising.

China's Foreign Ministry Tuesday reacted forcefully to the torch relay protests.

"We express our strong condemnation to the deliberate disruption of the Olympic torch relay by Tibetan separatist forces regardless of the Olympic spirit and the law of Britain and France," China spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.

"Their despicable activities tarnish the lofty Olympic spirit and challenge all the people loving the Olympic Games around the world."

The flame will return to China in May to begin a relay through the host nation, ending in Beijing with the August 8 opening of the Olympic Games.

One of the San Francisco torchbearers has dropped out of Wednesday's relay because of fears of protests, a torch relay spokesman said.

David Perry, spokesman for the San Francisco Olympic Torch Relay, said he did not want to release the name of the person.

"I understand anyone that might feel that they don't want to expose themselves to something more than protest," Perry said.

On Monday, three protesters scaled San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and raised a large banner.

Those who climbed the cables from which the bridge's deck is suspended were members of Students for a Free Tibet, said group spokesman Tenzin Dasang, 22. They unfurled a banner that read: "One World. One Dream. Free Tibet."

The three climbers, along with four people on the ground, were charged with felony conspiracy and misdemeanor nuisance charges, said California Highway Patrol Officer Mary Ziegenbein. The climbers also were charged with misdemeanor trespassing.

The Golden Gate Bridge protest came on the same day that thousands of protesters forced an abrupt halt to the flame's passage through Paris after 10 miles of the 17-mile planned route. Some stops were skipped and the flame was transferred from the torch back to the lamp to be carried on a bus several times to avoid protesters.

Protesters pierced the thick security bubble surrounding the torchbearers, at times getting their hands on the torch itself.

The Paris demonstrations were similar to those Sunday in London, where at least 36 people were arrested, according to London Metropolitan Police. Protesters cited China's actions in Tibet, its policies on the Darfur region of Sudan and the lack of civil rights and freedoms for the Chinese people.

But other demonstrators, bearing Chinese flags, turned out in support of the Chinese government, and many others were spectators there just to see the torch.

An Olympic committee member suggested Monday that the public relations nightmare that has followed the Olympic flame on its way to the Summer Games in Beijing may make 2008 the last time such an ambitious global torch relay is attempted. Follow the torch relay itinerary »

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International Olympic Committee member Richard Kevan Gosper, who is also chairman of the IOC's press committee, told reporters he was always opposed to a global tour for the flame.

"I'm a firm believer that we had the right template in the first place, that the torch simply should go from Olympia, Greece, to the host country," Gosper said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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