SAN FRANCISCO – Three people protesting China's human rights record and the impending arrival of the Olympic torch climbed up the Golden Gate Bridge on Monday and tied the Tibetan flag and two banners to its cables.
The banners read "One World One Dream. Free Tibet" and "Free Tibet 08."
The protesters wore helmets and harnesses as they made their way up the cables running next to the south tower of the famed span. The climb had the group suspended about 150 feet above traffic.
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Reached by cell phone as he dangled from the bridge, demonstrator Laurel Sutherlin said he was worried that the torch's planned route through Tibet would lead to more arrests and Chinese officials would use force to stifle dissent.
"The leaders of China have said they'll maintain order at all costs, and we know what that means — bloodshed and violent oppression," he said. "If the IOC allows the torch to proceed into Tibet they'll have blood on their hands."
The protesters later climbed down.
In all, seven were charged with conspiracy and causing a public nuisance, with the three climbers facing additional charges of trespassing, said Mary Ziegenbien, a spokeswoman with the California Highway Patrol.
The bridge protest's organizers said they'll remain faithful to their mission of protesting without violence when the torch relay takes place Wednesday here, its only North American stop, despite the disruptive action on the Golden Gate.
They said they wanted to take full advantage of the moment in the international spotlight to get their message out.
"This is a life or death situation for Tibetans," said Yangchen Lhamo, an organizer of Monday's banner hanging who is on the board of directors of Students for a Free Tibet.
The torch's path around the globe already has been marked by protests against China's policies toward Tibet, Sudan, Myanmar and Chinese dissidents, such as practitioners of Falun Gong.
In Paris, organizers canceled the final leg of the Olympic run after chaotic protests, snuffing out the torch and putting it aboard a bus.
Rallies, vigils and news conferences related to the torch's arrival have taken place in San Francisco almost daily for the past several weeks. More are planned over the next two days in anticipation of the torch's arrival.
About 80 torchbearers will carry the flame on a six-mile route along the San Francisco Bay.
On Wednesday, government and law enforcement conferred in last-minute preparations to keep rallies under control.
City leaders watched events around the world to develop a plan striking a balance between protesters' rights to express their views and San Francisco's ability to host a safe torch ceremony on Wednesday.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and the police department said they reserved the right to adjust the flame's route if necessary. The air space above the city will be restricted during the relay, a federal aviation spokesman said.
In spite of preparations, the tumult around flame has left one of the torchbearers worried.
Lorri Coppola, a champion racewalker whose body is being slowly shut down by Lou Gehrig's disease, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, has met with the Dalai Lama in the past, and understands the protesters' motives.
"They are doing it in the free countries because they know what might happen should they try to protest in China!" she wrote by e-mail, as the disease has cost her the ability to speak.
But ALS has left her weak, and she's afraid of getting hurt if activists are out of control.
"I am concerned about my safety as I am not as strong as others due to ALS," she wrote. "To create damage to property or danger to other people is just as bad as the human rights violations they are protesting."