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Last run of Paris Olympic torch relay canceled following protests
Police officers apprehend a demonstrator as he tried to interrupt the Olympic torch parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, Monday April 7, 2008. Chaos has struck the Olympic torch relay through Paris, with security officials extinguishing the flame three times amid raucous protests. Police escorted the torch onto a bus on three separate occasions over several hours, apparently to move it away from protesters. - photo by Associated Press
    PARIS — Organizers canceled the final leg of the Olympic run through Paris after chaotic protests Monday, snuffing out the torch and putting it aboard a bus in a humiliating concession to protesters decrying China’s human rights record.
    Worried officials extinguished the torch and placed it on the bus five times throughout the day as protesters tried to grab the torch and block the relay. At least two activists got almost an arm’s length away before they were seized by police.
    Another protester threw water at the torch but failed to put it out before being taken away.
    The 17.4-mile route started at the Eiffel Tower, headed down the Champs-Elysées toward City Hall, then crossed the Seine before ending at the Charlety track and field stadium.
    The chaos started at the Eiffel Tower moments after the relay began. Green Party activist Sylvain Garel lunged for the first torchbearer, former hurdler Stephane Diagana, and shouted ‘‘Freedom for the Chinese!’’ before security officials pulled him back.
    The torch moved on but was soon put out by security officers and placed aboard the bus after a crowd of activists waving Tibetan flags confronted the torchbearer on a road along the Seine.
    The torch went back on the bus less than an hour later after the procession was halted by activists who booed and chanted ‘‘Tibet!’’
    ‘‘We respect that right for people to demonstrate peacefully, but equally there is a right for the torch to pass peacefully and the runners to enjoy taking part in the relay,’’ International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Giselle Davies told The Associated Press.
    Security officials appeared to interrupt the procession for the third time simply because they had spotted demonstrators ahead. Protesters threw plastic bottles, cups and pieces of bread at the bus, and at a male athlete in a wheelchair.
    ‘‘Nothing is happening as planned. It’s unfortunate,’’ Diagana told France 2 television.
    The torch went back inside the bus a fourth time shortly after a protester approached it with a fire extinguisher near the Louvre. Officers grabbed the demonstrator before he could start to spray. Police said later that at least 28 people had been taken into custody.
    The flame was whisked into a bus for the last time outside the National Assembly, where protesters gathered and a banner on the building read: ‘‘Respect for Human Rights in China.’’
    Other demonstrators scaled the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame cathedral and hung banners depicting the Olympic rings as handcuffs.
    ‘‘The flame shouldn’t have come to Paris,’’ said protester Carmen de Santiago, who had ‘‘free’’ painted on one cheek and ‘‘Tibet’’ on the other.
    Activists carrying Chinese flags held counter-demonstrations.
    ‘‘The Olympic Games are about sports. It’s not fair to turn them into politics,’’ said Gao Yi, a Chinese second-year doctoral student studying computer science in Paris.
    Police had drawn up an elaborate plan to keep the torch in a safe ‘‘bubble,’’ hoping to prevent the chaos that marred the relay Sunday in London, where police repeatedly scuffled with activists angry about China’s human rights record.
    One protester tried to grab the torch; another tried to put out the flame with what appeared to be a fire extinguisher. Thirty-seven people were arrested.
    In Paris, about 3,000 officers were deployed on motorcycles, in jogging gear and with inline roller skates. Torchbearers were encircled by several hundred officers. Boats patrolled the Seine River, which slices through the French capital, and a helicopter flew overhead.
    French President Nicolas Sarkozy has left open the possibility of boycotting the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing depending on how the situation evolves in Tibet. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday that was still the case.
    Activists have been protesting along the torch route since the flame embarked on its 85,000-mile journey from Ancient Olympia in Greece to the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Olympics.
    The round-the-world trip is the longest in Olympic history, and is meant to highlight China’s rising economic and political power. Activists have seized on it as a platform for their causes.
    Beijing organizers criticized London’s protesters, saying their actions were a ‘‘disgusting’’ form of sabotage by Tibetan separatists.
    ‘‘The act of defiance from this small group of people is not popular,’’ said Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organizing committee. ‘‘It will definitely be criticized by people who love peace and adore the Olympic spirit. Their attempt is doomed to failure.’’
    The torch relay is also expected to face demonstrations in San Francisco, New Delhi and possibly other destinations on its 21-stop, six-continent tour before arriving in mainland China May 4.
    Associated Press writers Nicolas Garriga, Angela Doland and John Leicester contributed to this report.
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