February 5, 2006

Protestors force Olympic torch diversion

By Simon Evans

SUSA, Italy (Reuters) - The Olympic torch was diverted away
from two towns about 50 kms from Turin on Sunday because of
feared trouble from protestors opposed to a rail development.

Winter Olympics organizing committee (TOROC) spokesman
Stefano Coscia told Reuters that the police had advised that
the torch should not to be taken through the Susa Valley towns
of Bussoleno and Borgone Susa.

Earlier on Sunday, a protestor had briefly covered the
torch with a flag during chaotic scenes when it entered Italy's
Susa Valley, the focal point for a campaign against a
high-speed rail project.

"The police told us not to go through Bussoleno and Borgone
Susa through public order concerns," Coscia said.

Instead, the torch will be taken directly to the nearby
mountain town of Bardonecchia where an evening celebration is

There was a heavy police presence in the valley and local
environmentalists said protests had been planned for both
Bussoleno and Borgone Susa. Several hundred protestors carried
out their demonstration in Bussoleno despite the absence of the

Flag waving protestors lined the road between Susa and
Bussoleno where demonstrators carried out an alternative
procession, featuring runners carrying unlit torches covered in
anti-rail slogans.

One of the torches used was an official Olympic torch which
had been given to Susa campaigners after being taken by a
sympathizer during an earlier leg of the tour, Piercarlo
Coperto, a demo organizer said.

The two main corporate sponsors of the torch procession,
Samsung and Coca Cola, had opted out of participating in
Sunday's leg of the tour, a TOROC spokesman said.

The communist mayor of Bussoleno had initially said he
would refuse to allow Coke to hand out their publicity in the
town before later changing his mind.


The torch, which began its journey in Athens on December 6,
is due to arrive in Turin on Thursday, the eve of the Games
which continue until February 26.

It is supposed to symbolize friendship across the nations
but has been the focus at recent Winter and Summer Games for

Campaigners for Tibet, against Olympic sponsor Coca-Cola
and the high-speed Susa Valley train route, have held
demonstrations during its journey through Italy from Rome but
this is the first time that protestors have forced a diversion.

More than 1,000 people had lined the central streets of the
town of Susa, with many congregating on a bridge where the
torch procession crossed. One demonstrator covered the flame
with a protest flag, either trying to smother it or to ignite
the flag.

However, the runner continued moving and a policeman
escorted the protestor away within seconds. It was not
immediately clear if any arrests were made.

Although there were some chaotic scenes on the narrow
bridge where the incident took place, the demonstration was
peaceful with families and a local drumming band taking part.

Hundreds of banners and flags of opposition to the railway
covered a central square with one declaring 'Hands off Susa
Valley' but while police were jeered and whistled, the torch
runner was applauded by many in the crowd.

There have been numerous protests against a high-speed rail
link planned between Italy and France as the torch has made its
way around Italy ahead of the Winter Games that start on

The Susa Valley lies on the French-Italian border about 50
kms north of Turin and connects the city with mountain resorts
which will be used for the Games.