Torch heads to Argentina as controversy, protests continue

(dpa) - The Olympic torch for the 2008 Beijing Games headed Thursday towards its next destination, Argentina, as the torch relay remained a target of attempts to disrupt it by demonstrators protesting against China's policies towards Tibet.

For the first time, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge spoke of a "crisis" for the Olympics while Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama issued an appeal for non-violent protests and reiterated support for China's hosting the games.

Speaking in Beijing, Rogge said there had been greater problems in the past for the Olympics movement to solve and added he was sure the Beijing Games would prove to be a success.

After China's crackdown in Tibet and the torch relay protests, the present situation was "a challenge," Rogge said after an IOC executive meeting. But there could be no comparison to past challenges including Olympic boycotts or the massacre at the 1972 Munich Games.

Members of the IOC expressed relief that the San Francisco leg of the Olympic torch relay had occurred without major incidents. After the mayhem that haunted the legs in London and Paris this week, Rogge said the situation in San Francisco "was better."

"It was, however, not the joyous party that we had wished it to be," he added.

The symbolic flame was spirited Wednesday through San Francisco in the face of demonstrations. After numerous ploys to keep the torch far from thousands of protestors who lined the official route, the official farewell ceremony was cancelled and the torch was secreted to the city's airport. It was then flown quietly to Argentina.

In Tokyo, the Dalai Lama appealed for non-violent protests during the Olympic torch relay, but expressed support for China's hosting of the international games.

While he condemned disturbances that have marred the relay, the Nobel Peace Prize winner told reporters that no one, including himself, has "the right to say, 'Shut up' ... It is the freedom of speech."

He made the remarks at a press conference during a stopover in Japan en route to the United States, where he was to spend two weeks on what he said was a non-political visit.

"Tibet must have real autonomy," the Dalai Lama said, adding that some Chinese leaders "consider Tibetan Buddhism a sign of separation" and portray him as a threat.

"I really feel very sad that at the government level, they almost demonize me," the monk said. "I'm just a human being."

In New Delhi, the India-based Tibetan government-in-exile said it did not support the disruption of the Olympic torch run and appealed to people not to resort to violence during next week's Indian leg of the relay.

"The Kashag (cabinet of the government-in-exile) again appeals to the Tibetan diaspora to desist from violent protests and respect the law of the host country and ensure that Indian sentiments are not hurt as the Olympic torch relay passes through India," it said.

An estimated 100,000 Tibetan refugees - the largest concentration of Tibetans outside Tibet - live in India. Many of them fled to India with the Dalai Lama after the 1959 crackdown on the Tibetan uprising.

India has assured Beijing that it will make adequate security arrangements during the torch run in New Delhi on April 17.

A four-member Chinese security team was in Delhi to hold talks with Indian officials to take stock of the security arrangements.

Meanwhile Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, during his visit to Beijing, said Thursday that Chinese leaders were sticking to their position on Tibet despite calls from Western politicians for them to allow media access and hold talks with the exiled Dalai Lama.

The views on Tibet given by Premier Wen Jiabao and other leaders were "consistent with the public position we've seen from the Chinese government in recent times," Rudd told reporters shortly after meeting Wen.

Rudd said he urged Wen to hold a dialogue with the Dalai Lama and had "considerable discussion" lasting some 30 minutes on the recent unrest in China's Tibetan areas.

"I think we have a different view, that's quite plain," he said of the discussion with Wen on Tibet.

"When it comes to the particular events of recent times, the position of the Australian government is that there are significant human rights problems in Tibet," Rudd said.

The Olympic flame was lit in Greece on March 24 and is being relayed through 20 countries before being carried into the opening ceremony in Beijing on August 8.

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