Monday at 11:00 AM I’m waiting at the Trocadero along with several hundred others. Across the Seine, at the Eiffel Tower, the Olympic torch is about to begin its 17.4-mile run through the city of Paris. At the Trocadero there are protests against China- loud chanting, speeches from former Tibetan prisoners. I climb up the fountain to get a better vantage point despite my bad back because I care about you- the reader.
I hear that there is a pro-China rally at the bottom of the hill. I’ve never actually met someone that was pro-China so I scurry down the hill, camera in hand. There are an over-whelming number of Asian women waving the Chinese flag along with, strangely enough, flags with the Samsung logo on it. (Photo to Follow) Samsung is one of the sponsors of the 2008 Olympics and apparently handed out little flags to wave. At the bottom of the hill the crowd is more mixed- Tibetan and Chinese flag- to two opposing groups shout at each other. A Tibetan demonstrator runs in front of the Chinese flags and waves a cardboard “Free Tibet” sign- it is knocked out of his hands. That’s the only sign of violence between the two groups that I see. My hair looks great.
The French riot police arrive and form a line between the two opposing groups. I happen to be on the Tibetan side when they come. We are forcibly pushed across one street, the median and across another street. We are pushed hard. The Tibetan women yell at the CSR riot police and push back. The police keep their cool but they push us even harder until both groups are away from each other, separated by Avenue du President Kennedy, just west of the Pont d’Iena.
Security is massive for the running of the torch. I wonder how much it’s costing the French. There are 3,000 police and security forces involved in this relatively short run. Among them are 160 of Frances most feared CRS riot police; these are the guys we saw the most of. There are 100 police on rollerblades, 100 running firemen who seemed the most pissed off and 16 security vehicles following behind while helicopters patrol above and 3 patrol boats on the river Seine. As the Avenue du President Kennedy nears the Pont d’Iena the road narrows- what had been two columns of security becomes a single file line. At the Pont d’Iena is a large, unruly crowd waving their flags waiting for something, anything to pass them that represents China’s oppression of Tibet. They yell at the athletes in busses and anyone carrying a Chinese flag. People dressed in suits drive by as part of the procession, they are also booed although no one knows who they are.
The Olympic torch comes near- surrounded by police. The crowd screams in anger. The bearer of the torch is in a wheelchair- the torch has blown out he makes the international gesture for “I need a lighter.” An older man and his wife boo and shake their Tibetan sign at him. He probably was honored to have been asked but he looks uncomfortable- I wonder if he has kids in the crowd. The crowd at Pont d’Iena have been waiting for this moment- there is a rush from the crowd.
Tear gas is released by the police- people lean over the stone parapet facing the Seine to escape it. They vomit and spit, snot hangs from their noses. The protests get so bad that the torch rides the rest of the relay in a van.
I walk to Pont Alma and take the train to Hotel Deville, where the procession will pass in an hour. A crowed has already gathered there- the same speeches are being made; the same signs are being waved- I’m suddenly tired by the whole thing. I wait for awhile and admire the sign that Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe had placed on the Hotel De Ville- “Paris defends the rights of man throughout the world.” Then I go home.