Newsom to voice concern about Tibet
San Francisco Chronicle[Friday, April 04, 2008 13:43]

San Francisco -- San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said Thursday he will raise concerns to International Olympic Committee members next week over the possible resurgence of violence in Tibet in June when the Olympic torch passes through that region of China.

Newsom met Thursday afternoon with representatives of five Tibetan organizations who asked the mayor to talk with Olympic Committee members about the likelihood of renewed violence in Tibet in June.

"That was the first time I've been asked that, and it's something I am absolutely open to and committed to," Newsom said after the hourlong meeting at City Hall.

Newsom said he has not met with any members of the International Olympic Committee for months, but said he assumes representatives will be in San Francisco on Wednesday for the torch festivities.

The mayor also said he will consider making a public statement about China and Tibet during next week's ceremonies when the Olympic torch is brought to the city.

"If I have to decide if I want to position myself to create an international incident, that's something I'll have to consider, I guess," Newsom said.

San Francisco is the only U.S. city to host the Beijing Olympic torch, and Newsom has faced increasing pressure to take a bold, public stand concerning China's human rights record. An uprising by Tibetan monks last month sparked demonstrations and riots that resulted in a deadly crackdown by Chinese authorities in several parts of that country.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution sharply critical of China's human rights record and the recent crackdown in Tibet. The resolution calls on the official who will represent San Francisco in the torch ceremonies - likely to be Newsom - to accept the flame with "alarm and protest."

Newsom, who plans to read the resolution today, said he appreciates the spirit behind it, though he said he did not know if he would sign it. The resolution doesn't require the mayor's signature.

He said it was not his practice to "sign resolutions that tell me what to say and how to say it."

The mayor also pointed out that per Olympic protocol, he would never get to physically hold or accept the torch anyway.

Still, he said he will think about raising some of the concerns that protesters have expressed daily outside his City Hall office during next week's ceremonies.

Representatives of the groups that met with Newsom - including the Committee of 100 for Tibet, the Tibetan Association of Northern California, Students for a Free Tibet, the Bay Area Friends for Tibet and the San Francisco Regional Tibetan Youth Congress - said they were mostly satisfied after meeting with the mayor, something they said they had requested for months.

But both Newsom and the representatives disagreed on whether the city should have hosted the torch in the first place.

"He was quite concerned" with the situation in Tibet, said Ngodup Tsering, president of the Tibetan Association of Northern California. "I told him I'd like to see more action in terms of how he feels about these things."

Also on Thursday, Newsom's office confirmed the spots where "First Amendment locations" will be set up for protesters who want to assemble in large groups without permits. Those areas will be inside the fence line of parking lot A near McCovey Cove - near the start of the relay - and a portion of Ferry Park near the end of the relay. Protesters without permits will be allowed anywhere along the route - as long as space is available, said Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard.

The city Recreation and Park Department said that three groups had secured permits for five locations to hold large protests Wednesday. The groups represent people with concerns about Tibet and China's policies in Burma and the Darfur region of Sudan. According to the permit applications, protest organizers expect 4,000 to 6,500 people at their events.