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Canada was in 'boycott mode' before earthquake: Pound

The Olympic torch's final parade on Tuesday paid homage to victims of China's earthquake in May, a tragic event that Dick Pound said saved the country from boycotts of the Games.

Pound critical of torch relay

The Olympic torch's final parade on Tuesday paid homage to victims of China's earthquake in May, a tragic event that Dick Pound said saved the country from boycotts of the Games.

The Montreal native and longtime International Olympic Committee member said during the IOC's general assembly Tuesday that the global torch relay never should have taken place in light of expected protests by activists opposed to China's policies on Tibet, human rights and other issues.

"This came very close to becoming a disaster," he said. "The risks were obvious and should have been assessed a little more carefully. The result is there was a crisis affecting the Games."

The relay was disrupted by anti-China protests in London, Paris and other cities.

Earlier, IOC president Jacques Rogge said the committee would consider whether to eliminate international relays in the future, but it was the outspoken Pound who raised the issue to a more contentious level.

"In my country and in many other countries in my part of the world, we were in full boycott mode," he said. "Public opinion and political opinion was moving toward an actual boycott of the Games, and it was only the earthquake tragedy that diverted attention from what could otherwise have been something very, very serious."

A powerful, magnitude-7.9 quake flattened towns in Sichuan, which was the last stop for the Olympic flame on Tuesday. More than 69,000 people were killed and about 5 million were left homeless in the earthquake.

Rogge said the IOC will always retain its tradition of lighting the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia and starting the torch relay in Greece. But he reiterated the IOC might limit the flame processions to domestic routes within the Olympic host countries.

"We respect protests and freedom of expression, but violence is against the Olympic spirit," Rogge said. "We believe in the strong symbolism of the torch relay."

"It is illusory to think the simple elimination of the international relay will make all the problems disappear," he added. "The torch relay attracts the media, and the media attracts the protesters. To make it only a national relay will not solve all the problems."

"In the future, we need to be more hands-on and proactive on issues that engage our image and credibility," Verbruggen said. "It is heavily image-based. We cannot allow to be hijacked by pressure groups and vested interests."

Beijing organizing committee chief Liu Qi delivered his final report to the IOC before the Games, saying everything was ready for the accredited 11,128 athletes from 205 national delegations. More than 6,000 athletes from 170 countries have checked into the Olympic village so far, he said.

Torch now in Beijing

On its final day outside of Beijing, the torch was carried through 13 kilometres of an industrial part of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, rather than a more historic section of the city which houses Tibetan communities. The route was changed amid worries about security in a region where Tibetan protests erupted earlier this year.

The flame arrived in Beijing Tuesday evening, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, where it will stay for Friday's opening ceremony.

The Sichuan segment of the relay had originally been scheduled for mid-June but was postponed to support disaster-relief efforts.

China was taking no chances with security after deadly anti-government riots broke out in the Tibetan capital Lhasa in March, protests in neighbouring provinces like Sichuan and disruptions by pro-Tibet activists during the torch relay overseas.

China says 22 people died in Lhasa in March, while foreign Tibet supporters say many times that number were killed during the demonstrations and a subsequent government crackdown.

Busloads of police officers and troops with riot shields and helmets lined the route Tuesday. Security checkpoints were set up for spectators. Near Wuhouci temple in the older section of Chengdu, a road leading to a Tibetan area was heavily guarded by police armed with guns that fire tear gas.

The relay, which like all other stops in Sichuan began with a minute of silence to honour the quake victims, ended without incident.

Crowds selected by the local government cheered with gusto and waved Chinese flags and Olympic banners.

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