By Katrin Bennhold and Elisabeth Rosenthal

April 8, International Herald Tribune

PARIS: China dubbed its Olympic torch relay the "Journey of Harmony," a 21-nation promotional tour for the most expensive Games the world has seen and for a host nation eager to showcase its rising wealth and diplomatic clout.

But what was supposed to be a majestic procession through the French capital resulted in waves of chaos on Monday, as human rights groups used the event to assail China's record on rights and make the Olympic Games an increasingly delicate political challenge for the governing Communist Party.

China has spent eight years and tens of billions of dollars preparing to host the Summer Games, which Beijing has envisioned as a kind of coming-of-age party to showcase its rapid growth. But the outbreak of violent unrest in Tibet and a continuing crackdown there by Chinese security forces has emboldened China's critics, a diverse coalition of rights groups whose demands are often ignored in China and played down by Western leaders eager to promote Chinese trade and investment.

Passing through Paris under armed guard, the torch was extinguished several times, and police officers moved it aboard a bus to protect it as demonstrators swarmed the security detail. Chinese Olympic organizers abruptly canceled the last leg, as well as a stop at City Hall, where a banner proclaimed, "Paris Defends Human Rights Everywhere in the World."

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photo: Three activists climbed the cables of the famed Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to hang Pro-Tibet banners ahead of the arrival of the Olympic torch Wednesday (Kimberly White/Reuters)