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Olympic torch paraded through military city in China's northwest

June 22, 2008

June 19, 2008

BEIJING (AFP) -- The Beijing Olympic torch paraded through a major
mmilitary city in China's Muslim-dominated northwestern region of
Xinjiang Thursday where police patrolled for terrorist activities,
the government said.

Thousands of mostly Han Chinese watched the torch pass through the
city of Shihezi, one of the command centres of the Xinjiang
Production Corps, a military unit that has spearheaded China's
"liberation" of the restive region.

"Shihezi is a new city reclaimed by the military and populated by,
designed by, and built by the military," Song Zhiguo, the city's top
communist official, said at the start of the relay.

"Through the Olympic torch relay, we can fully display Shihezi's
vibrant environment and the results of our military's uniquely
beautiful cultivation of this area."

Thursday's Olympic relay marked the third and final day that the
torch passed through Xinjiang, a region predominantly populated by
Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking people with little resemblance to the Han Chinese.

Shihezi in northern Xinjiang is largely built on reclaimed desert
land and boasts a population of 640,000 people, of which just under
six percent are an ethnic minority, the Shihezi government website said.

"We must make serious efforts to prevent Xinjiang independence forces
and terrorists from sabotaging the Beijing Olympic torch relay," the
Production Corps News quoted He Qiang, the city's chief of police, as
saying at a security meeting on Wednesday.

The flame's travels through Xinjiang and the Tibetan regions of China
are considered the most sensitive legs on the three-month journey to
the August Beijing Games because of simmering discontent among ethnic groups.

After starting out in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi on Tuesday, the
flame passed through the oasis Silk Road trading town of Kashgar on Wednesday.

Later Thursday, the flame made its final stop in the region at the
mountain resort town of Changji, just northwest of Urumqi.

On Saturday, the flame will travel to Lhasa, the capital of the
Tibetan region, where deadly anti-China riots erupted in March.

According to the Germany-based World Uighur Congress, an exile group
that advocates creating an independent East Turkestan in Xinjiang,
China stations up to 2.5 million soldiers there, acting largely as a
colonial force.

"The role of the Xinjiang Production Corps is to oppress the ethnic
Uighur nationality and safeguard China's long-term colonisation of
East Turkestan," congress spokesman Dilxat Raxit told AFP.

The sensitivity of the Xinjiang leg was heightened earlier this year
when Beijing said it had smashed Xinjiang-based terror plots
targeting the Games.

Uighurs widely dismiss such Chinese claims as an attempt to justify
strict control of Xinjiang, Raxit said.

"Uighurs are living in a culture of fear, facing persecution,
marginalisation and assimilation that erode the very core of their
cultural identity, religious belief and economic rights," he said.q
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