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Olympic torch starts tense relay in Tibet

By Raghavendra in Beijing
June 21, 2008 11:54 IST
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The Olympic torch made its way through the Tibetan capital Lhasa amidst tight security on Saturday, three months after the deadly riots hit the remote Himalayan region during anti-China protests spearheaded by monks.

The 9.3 km relay kick-started from Norbulingka, known as the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama, with 156 torch bearers, including 75 Tibetans, and wound its way through the streets in Lhasa as the security personnel kept a close vigil.

"We are convinced that the Olympic Games torch relay in Lhasa will further inflame the patriotic spirit of the people," Lhasa Communist Party chief Qin Yizhi said at the opening ceremony.

Groups of people cheered and students waved the Chinese flags and Olympic banners.

On the eve of the relay, the Tibet Autonomous Regional government Executive Vice-Chairman Palma Trily said the government was confident of a safe and successful relay in Tibet.

Police have been deployed for security but there was none from the People's Liberation Army as their duty is to guard the frontier and protect the territory, he was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua news agency.

The relay in Tibet was confined to Lhasa only for a day, after a three-day programme was scaled down with organisers citing the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province in southwest China, which has left nearly 69,200 people dead, as the reason.

Under the previous plan, the torch was to arrive in Tibet on Thursday and leave on Saturday but the changes were made after the May 12 earthquake.

Security personnel remained alert to thwart any potential trouble for one of the most sensitive parts of the relay, which has had a smooth run within the country but was troubled by protests by Tibetans on its global sojourn.

A group of foreign journalists was also brought to Lhasa on Friday to cover the socio-economic development and the torch relay.

Tibet has remained out of bounds for foreign journalists, who were earlier brought on government-controlled trips weeks after the riots broke out and spread to some other Tibetan inhabited areas.

The Olympic flame, which the Chinese mountaineers carried to the summit of Mount Everest, would be reunited with the one on the main torch relay route.

The torch reached Lhasa from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, another sensitive and restive Muslim dominated region in China's northwest, where radicals among the Uighur ethnic group have been waging a low-intensity struggle against the Chinese rule.

Anti-government protests in Tibet had posed the most serious challenge to the authorities in two decades, with China repeatedly accusing the Dalai Lama, living in exile in India, of having masterminded the violence.

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