The Olympic torch was paraded on Saturday through the streets of Tibet's capital, Lhasa -- the scene of bloody riots in March.
The Olympic torch was paraded on Saturday through the streets of Tibet’s capital, Lhasa—the scene of bloody riots in March that triggered demonstrations at some of the flame’s international relay stops.
Tight security accompanied the flame over its three-hour journey through the historic city, one day after officials announced more jail sentences related to the deadly riots.
The roughly 10km run began at Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama’s former summer palace from where Tibet’s traditional Buddhist leader fled into exile in 1959. It ended at a vast square at the base of the hilltop Potala Palace, the traditional seat of Tibetan rulers.
Hundreds of police and paramilitary troops lined the route. Onlookers, who had been carefully screened beforehand, waved flags and chanted “Go China”.
About half of the 156 torch runners were ethnic Tibetan, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The Lhasa leg saw the reunion of the main torch with a separate one carried earlier to the top of Mount Everest—one of the highlights of the grandiose global relay that drew ugly confrontations at some of its international stops between Chinese supporters and groups protesting against Beijing’s human rights record and policies toward Tibet and Sudan.
On Friday, Palma Trily, the vice-governor of Tibet’s Chinese-appointed administration, told foreign reporters that Tibetan exile groups were seeking to sabotage the torch run. The reporters were required to travel in a closely guarded convoy and only allowed to cover the opening and closing legs, isolating them from contact with ordinary residents.
The city, which has been under a security lockdown since the riots, all but shut down for the relay, with streets deserted and most shops closed. A security cordon was thrown up around Potala Square, with costumed performers taking the place of Buddhist pilgrims who visit to turn prayer wheels and prostrate themselves in front of the palace, which is now a museum.
Released from detention
Palma Trily also announced that 12 more people had been sentenced for taking part in the March 14 riot in the city that spawned further protests throughout Tibetan-inhabited regions of western China. He gave no details about their offences or the punishments meted out.
Palma Trily said another 1 157 people had been released from detention over minor offences related to the violent anti-government protests, in which Beijing says 22 people died.
Chinese officials say the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader, was behind the March unrest. They also accuse the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate of trying to sabotage the Beijing Olympics and preparing “suicide squads” to carry out attacks. The Dalai Lama has denied the charges.
Tibet is still closed to foreign tourists. Foreign journalists have been allowed to visit only as part of closely monitored government tours.
Activist groups say the torch relay leg in Tibet and the separate relay to the peak of Mount Everest are an attempt by Chinese leaders to symbolise their control over the Himalayan region.
China says it has ruled Tibet for centuries, although many Tibetans say their homeland was essentially independent for much of that time.
New York-based Human Rights in China called the Lhasa relay a “provocative decision” that harmed efforts to “find a peaceful long-term solution for Tibet and the region”.
“The government’s insistence on parading the torch through Lhasa can only undermine the respect and trust required for a genuine dialogue process with the Dalai Lama,” the group’s executive director, Sharon Hom, was quoted as saying in a news release.
Amnesty International, which earlier this year expressed concern over the fate of those detained after the spring protests, said it was heartened by word of the released detainees.
“We are encouraged by the news of the release of 1 157 people and we look forward to receiving information about the trials of the 116 people in custody announced by the Tibetan authorities,” the group said.
In an unconfirmed report, a Hong Kong-based monitoring group said 7 000 troops had been dispatched to stand guard along the two-year-old railway line to Lhasa, on alert for sabotage attempts during the Saturday relay.
The Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said the line has been attacked more than 80 times since it opened. Incidents have included the placing of obstacles on the tracks and gunshots fired at the windows of passing trains, it said.
Officers at the two police stations attached to the railway line refused to answer questions about security or sabotage attempts, or give their names.—Sapa-AP