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Indian capital locked down for Olympic torch relay

April 20, 2008

NEW DELHI (AFP) — More than 2,000 protesters held a rival torch relay in
Delhi on Thursday, hours before the Olympic flame was set to be taken on
a short and high security jog in the city.

Tibetans, led by Buddhist monks and backed by local supporters, set off
from the mausoleum of Mahatma Gandhi, the champion of India's
non-violent independence movement, carrying a torch they said symbolised
a free Tibet.

"Long live the Dalai Lama" and "Stop the killings in Tibet," the
protesters shouted as they marched to a square 2.5 kilometres (1.5
miles) away from the barricaded site of the Olympic relay.

Indian supporters including parliamentarians, writers and social
activists joined the Tibetans.

"As Indians we think we are the motherland of Buddhism. We should
support the Tibetans who have upheld their culture and Buddhism," said
Rukmini Sekhar, a New Delhi-based Indian marcher.

Thousands of police and soldiers have locked down the Indian capital,
bidding to keep Tibetan protesters away from the most sensitive leg of
the protest-hit Beijing Olympic torch relay so far.

Tibet's government-in-exile under spiritual leader the Dalai Lama
appealed for peaceful protests but authorities were taking no chances,
deploying elite security forces and erecting barricades along the route.

Officials have already scaled back the relay and were keeping the route
a secret amid fears thousands of India's huge community of Tibetan
refugees will try to disrupt the event.

The round-the-world relay has been dogged by protesters, notably in
London and Paris, complaining over China's military crackdown in Tibet
and its human rights record.

India is considered particularly vulnerable because it is home to more
than 100,000 Tibetan refugees, including the Dalai Lama and radical
youth groups.

Authorities said they were worried that activists might set themselves
on fire in front of TV cameras.

"We have deployed three fire trucks along the route to meet any
eventuality and any untoward incident," a fire department spokesman told

"We are carrying blankets and we have an ample supply of water," a
security official added. "We cannot allow ugly scenes in front of

Fears of severe disruption have already forced Indian officials to
shorten the route, cutting it to a mere 2.3 kilometre (1.5 mile) jog
along an avenue running from the presidential palace to India Gate.

The event is expected to kick off around 4:00 pm (1030 GMT), but
officials were refusing to confirm the exact time.

About 1,000 protesters kicked off a rival torch relay in New Delhi,
setting off from the mausoleum of Mahatma Gandhi, the champion of
India's non-violent independence movement, and carrying a torch and
chanting "Free Tibet."

A police spokesman said the march was unauthorised, and that police
would "look into it."

The pro-independence Tibetan Youth Congress, which is taking a tougher
line than the Dalai Lama, said it hoped to outsmart police and disrupt
the relay.

"We have already made our plans," the group's vice-president Dhondup
Dorjee told AFP. "We are trying our best to get as close as possible to
the torch.

"If we reach in front of the torch, we will ask the Chinese guard to
shoot us down."

Dozens of its members were detained by police overnight as the torch
landed here from Pakistan, witnesses said.

But even if the group's plans to disrupt the relay are foiled, Dorjee
said "the impact has already been made" with the Games already
overshadowed by the wave of international protests over Tibet.

The government-in-exile has appealed for protests -- also reported in
other Indian cities -- to be "non-violent" and not embarrass India.

"It's very important not to embarrass the host (India), which means we
have asked Tibetans to keep their protest peaceful," its spokesman
Thubten Samphel said.

Seventy Indian sports figures, entertainers and others are taking part
in the torch run, including Bollywood actors Aamir Khan and Saif Ali
Khan, tennis player Leander Paes and officials from China's embassy in
New Delhi.

They will be guarded by about 16,000 police and paramilitary forces as
well as an elite anti-terror unit.

Barricades and iron sheeting have been thrown up around the route,
traffic has been diverted, trains halted and government offices will be
closed during the run, effectively paralysing the city centre.

The Indian Olympic Association has said members of the public were
welcome to watch the run, but they will have to negotiate several layers
of police and soldiers first.

India has been home to the Dalai Lama since he fled Tibet after a failed
1959 uprising against Chinese rule in his homeland.

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