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China Braces for High-security Torch Leg in Muslim West

June 17, 2008

June 16, 2008

URUMQI, China (AFP) - China braced Monday for a high-security
Olymppic torch relay leg through restive Xinjiang, where Beijing's
rule of the remote western region is deeply unpopular among its
millions of Muslims.

The torch was to arrive in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi in the evening
ahead of its transit through the city centre on Tuesday morning
before moving on to three other regional cities.

Officials announced a range of measures to safeguard the torch's
passage through Urumqi, including random checks of vehicles and a ban
on firecrackers and other potentially hazardous materials.

"Our mission of safeguarding the unity of the motherland and ethnic
minorities is extremely strenuous," Li Guangming, a top official with
Xinjiang's sports bureau, was quoted by Urumqi's Morning Post
newspaper as saying in outlining the relay plans.

Beijing says it faces a separatist Muslim terror threat in Xinjiang,
a vast region of deserts and stunning mountain ranges which is home
to more than eight million Uighurs, a Central Asian people who have
long chafed under Chinese control.

But Uighurs dismiss the claim as an attempt by China to justify its
strict control of the resource-rich region.

Uighur exiles and residents told AFP that Chinese authorities had
already employed a number of restrictive measures ahead of the relay,
including confiscating the passports of many Muslims.

Muslims believe the step is aimed at preventing them linking up
abroad with terrorists and religious extremists.

Authorities also have detained thousands, and forced Muslim religious
officials to undergo "political education" on "protecting" the
Olympics, said Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World
Uighur Congress.

Beijing Olympic organisers recently announced suddenly that the
sensitive Xinjiang leg would be moved forward from its original
schedule, which would have seen it arrive next week.

The relay comes after violent unrest in Tibet in March that laid bare
simmering discontent in China's minority regions. On Monday,
state-run Beijing News said the Tibetan leg of the torch relay would
be held on June 21.
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