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Beijing Olympics 2008: Torch relay reaches sealed-off Tibet

June 23, 2008

Mark Smith and agencies
Guardian (UK)
June 21, 2008

Ethnic Tibetans dance during the Olympic torch relay outside the
Potala palace in Lhasa. Photograph: Nir Elias/Reuters

The Olympic torch today wound its way through the streets of Lhasa,
the Tibetan capital and scene of bloody riots in March, amid tight
Chinese security.

The flame's three-hour, six-mile (10km) journey through the historic
city came one day after officials announced additional sentences over
the deadly anti-government rioting that fueled protests at China's
human rights record around the world.

The procession started at the Dailai Lama's former summer palace at
Norbulingka and ended at a vast square at the base of the hilltop
Potala Palace, the traditional seat of Tibetan rulers before the
current leader's exile in 1959.

Hundreds of police and paramilitary troops lined the route.
Onlookers, who had been carefully screened beforehand, waved flags
and chanted "Go China," but the general mood was far more subdued
than at the torch's earlier stops in Chinese cities.

Just under half of the 156 runners were ethnic Tibetan, the official
Xinhua news agency said.

The few foreign reporters who were given special permission to cover
the Lhasa leg were required to travel in a closely guarded convoy.
They were only allowed to cover the opening and closing portions,
isolating them from contact with ordinary residents.

Tibet has been under a security clampdown since March and is still
closed to foreign tourists.

Yesterday, Palma Trily, the vice-governor of Tibet's China-appointed
administration, said Tibetan exile groups were seeking to sabotage
the torch run.

He announced that 12 more people had been sentenced for taking part
in the March 14 riots, band that another 1,157 people had been
released over minor offenses related to protests, in which Beijing
says 22 people died.

The US charity 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, said in a statement.

Amnesty International, which earlier this year expressed concern over
the fate of those detained after the March 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," Amnesty said.
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