(dpa) - Actor Richard Gere and Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu led peaceful protests in San Francisco Tuesday night as the city braced for the controversial passage of the Olympic torch Wednesday.
Earlier, other demonstrators lit what they called the Tibetan Freedom Torch, police called in reinforcements and officials planned to change the torch's route to prevent a repeat of the mayhem caused by protestors in London and Paris.
An estimated 100,000 people were expected to line the route. Most protests groups have pledged not to disrupt the torch relay, but to use the globally televised even to draw attention to China's alleged human rights abuses.
The tone for the protests was set Monday when three activists climbed the suspension cables of the Golden Gate Bridge to unfurl banners in support of Tibet.
"It is fantastic what people have been doing," Tutu told reporters at the Candle Lights for Human Rights vigil at the city's United Nations Plaza.
City Supervisor Chris Daley lit the Tibetan Freedom Torch, calling on citizens to greet the Olympic torch "in a nonviolent yet most militant way." Other officials at the demonstration called on protestors not to disrupt the Olympic torch relay.
The Olympic torch arrived in San Francisco early Tuesday with hundreds of police officers on hand to protect the torch, and the pre-dawn arrival at the airport minimized protests. The procession Wednesday afternoon through the Pacific Coast city is the torch's only stop in the US on its strife-ridden journey around the globe ahead of the 2008 Beijing Games in August.
In New York the United Nations special advisor on sport warned that the effect of continued demonstrations could be devastating to the image of the Olympics and said he would travel to China to try and reduce tensions.
"My wish is to de-escalate the conflict," Willi Lemke, a former Bundesliga football manager, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. "If these pictures (of the torch relay) continue to go round the world until August, nobody will be happy about the Olympic Games, and that would be devastating."