VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Several hundred protesters demonstrated against the Olympics in downtown Vancouver before the opening ceremony began on Friday, chanting slogans such as “Shame, Canada, Shame,” and “No Olympics on stolen native land.”
The protest by anti-poverty and anti-globalization groups followed a series of rallies earlier in the day aimed at disrupting the final leg of the Olympic torch relay.
The actions were noisy but mostly free of violence under the watchful eyes of police.
Critics of the Olympics complain that the government and Games supporters broke promises to reduce social problems such as homelessness as part of the preparation for the massive sporting spectacle.
Placards were emblazoned with slogans such as “Why can’t the Olympics be ethical?” and “Resist police control,” the latter carried by a group wearing black masks.
“This is a reflection of the frustration. There would not be thousands of people protesting if they had kept their commitments,” longtime Olympic critic Am Johal said.
Vancouver’s downtown was also packed with tourists, many of whom had confused looks as they passed the demonstrations. Some stopped to have their picture taken in front of the Olympic countdown clock amid the cacophony of the protest.
Earlier, protesters forced the last stretch of the torch relay to be rerouted briefly but were vastly outnumbered by crowds of excited spectators lining the route.
No one was arrested, police said, although there was some pushing and shoving between a group of about two dozen people chanting “Shame on Canada” and police. Other spectators yelled back at the protesters: “Go Canada Go.”
Police were expected to keep protesters well away from the opening ceremony at BC Place stadium, where 60,000 people were set to converge.
Minor disturbances were also planned for Saturday, according to anti-Olympic groups.
Former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, who was one of the torch carriers forced to divert, played down the unrest.
“The Olympics are great for everyone, including protesters,” he said after carrying the torch in his wheelchair.
Writing by Jeffrey Jones, Editing by Ossian Shine