SAN FRANCISCO – Mayor Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that protesters have the right to voice their grievances against China when the Olympic torch makes its only North American stop, but that city officials have a responsibility to ensure a peaceful procession.
Activists who have criticized the city for restricting demonstration permits to certain areas have been demanding to know the route the torch will take here next month. The American Civil Liberties Union says protesters have a right to plan their rallies against the Chinese government's policies on Tibet and Darfur.
Speaking to the Sacramento Press Club on Tuesday, the mayor said city officials still were negotiating the eight-mile route with police and the International Olympic Committee. He said it would be made public before the April 9 relay.
The discussions already have resulted in certain stops being eliminated and the opening and closing ceremonies being shortened.
"It's a simple route, it'll be on the larger boulevards of our city, tend to be around the waterfront, but the details have yet to be worked out," he said. "It could change up to game day, so to speak."
San Francisco was selected to host the torch in part because of its large Asian-American population. When the Olympic symbol visited the city in 2002 and 1996, it passed through the city's Chinatown.
But Newsom said last week that the torch likely would skip Chinatown this time because it would be too difficult to get it through the neighborhood's narrow streets.
The mayor said Tuesday that no one would be prevented from expressing their views as the torch travels through the city, but organizers of large rallies needed to acquire permits to gather near, but not alongside, the torch.
"We don't want to give you the permit right on the same stage that the advocates for the torch are going to participate," he said. "We must do it within sight and sound of that stage, and we want to accommodate that."