Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tibet - High security follows Olympic torch

High security followed the torch relay in Lhasa

The Olympic torch made its way through the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on Saturday but most local residents were kept away. The few people that did watch had been carefully vetted by authorities. The Olympic torch relay followed a 9.3 km route from Norbulingka, originally known as the Dalai Lama's Summer Palace, to the Potala Palace, formerly the chief residence of the Dalai Lama. Australian journalist Stephen McDonell said "it was quite bizarre" to watch a controlled crowd smile and wave as the flame arrived at the palace. McDonell said it was obvious that ordinary Tibetans were not allowed to attend. Some Lhasa residents told McDonell they were warned to stay in their homes until the relay ended. Nonetheless the ceremony was colourful and spectacular, McDonell added. The BBC's James Reynolds said there was a staggering security presence in the city, three months after violent protests broke out.

The local general secretary of the Communist party used the event to make a pro-China political statement against the Dalai Lama's government in exile. And one official was quoted as saying,
"the stars of China will forever fly over Tibet and we can smash the Dalai clique." Beijing Olympic officials said 75 of the 156 torchbearers carrying the flame through Lhasa were ethnic Tibetans.

The earthquake that devastated China's Sichuan province last month forced a change in the torch relay schedule, including a reduction from three to just one day the flame's trip through Tibet. The BBC's James Reynolds says there was a staggering security presence in the city, three months after violent protests broke out. Reporters representing about 30 international news organisations have been allowed into the city in a closely monitored group to cover the torch relay which had been delayed following the May 12th earthquake in Sichuan. The offshoot of the Olympic flame that was carried to the peak of Mount Everest last month was reunited with the main flame during Saturday's Lhasa relay [CNN / torch relay map / pictures]. There was similar scenes of high security in Xinjiang only a few days before with many Muslim Uighers apparently told to stay in their homes to watch the procession on their televisions.

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