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Protesters force Olympic Torch detour

Protesters force the Olympic torch relay to change course when the flame enters a troubled Vancouver neighborhood.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Protesters forced the Olympic torch relay to change course briefly Friday when the flame entered a troubled Vancouver neighborhood, police said.

Friday was the 106th and last day of the relay. The Olympics begin with the lighting of the cauldron later Friday at the opening ceremony.

About 150 protesters gathered in the Downtown Eastside area amid hundreds of Olympics fans waiting for a glimpse of the flame. A dozen mounted police stopped the placard-carrying protesters from surging ahead and confronting the relay.

The convoy quickly changed the route and continued on, said Sandy Estabrooks, spokesman with the Vancouver Police Department.

"Looks like the torch team scooted up the side street and then continued back on the original route," Estabrooks said. "If anything, it pushed the relay 20 minutes behind schedule."

From a kilt wearing bagpiper to a group of war veterans carrying flags and three firefighters atop of a fire truck playing the Olympic anthem, supporters were determined to let the protesters have their say, but also to see the spirit of the games carry the day.

“They have the right to protest, just like we have the right be here,” said Steve Bradberry, executive committee of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 114. “But it’s because of those people, that they can protest,” he said as he pointed to a group of veterans holding flags in front of Vancouver’s war memorial, the Victory Square Cenotaph.

The Olympic Resistance Network organized the rally to protest the large amount of money spent on the games, as well as what they see as the destruction of indigenous lands by the Olympics. One of their other slogans was “No Olympics on Stolen Native Lands.”

While many were sympathetic to the protesters cause, they also believed that hosting the Olympics and helping Vancouver’s downtrodden were not mutually exclusive efforts.

“We’re here to see the torch and support the Olympics,” said Dale Romenyck, who was accompanied by a colleague. “We both work in the Downtown Eastside, so we know the issues here, but we think there is positive spin off [from the Olympics]. You can’t put a value on it."

Estabrooks said security had been bolstered in an area described as a hot spot for marchers.

"It was bound to happen," she said. "Other than people bumping into each other, there hasn't been any injuries that I have see or heard about."

Earlier in the day, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger carried the flame in the city's Stanley Park. He handed the torch to former Olympic champion runner Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London 2012 Summer Games.