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In Lhasa, barbed wire greets Olympic torch

June 23, 2008

The Globe and Mail (Canada)
June 21, 2008

LHASA -- With barbed-wire barriers on the streets to keep away the
uninvited, China sent the Olympic flame on a hasty two-hour dash
through Lhasa Saturday, using a massive police presence to prevent
any protests.

Invited guests were allowed into the opening and closing ceremonies,
but most ordinary Tibetans were kept far away from the Olympic flame
as it was carried on a shortened run through the capital.

Thousands of paramilitary police and regular police kept a close eye
on the event, which passed without any incidents, despite government
claims that Tibetan separatists were trying to sabotage it.

Much of the city, aside from the torch route, was almost deserted.
Residents were told to stay inside their homes, unless they had a
special pass allowing them to cheer for the torch. Hundreds of shops
along the torch route were shuttered for the day.

A small group of foreign journalists, invited to attend the relay,
were not permitted to see any of the nine-kilometre run except the
beginning and end. They had to pass through a barbed-wire checkpoint
and other security checks before they were permitted to the opening ceremony.

At the end of the relay, the Olympic flame was greeted by a carefully
choreographed display of ethnic dancing and rhythmic flag-waving from
thousands of school children and other hand-picked spectators. They
cheered as the torch arrived at a plaza below the famed Potala
Palace, traditional home of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader.

The torch is now heading to Qinghai province and then to other
provinces before reaching Beijing in early August.

Chinese officials took advantage of the Olympic event to launch
another verbal blast at the Dalai Lama, whom they blame for the
unrest in Tibet.

"We will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of
the Dalai Lama clique," said Zhang Qingli, the hardline boss of the
Tibetan Communist Party, in a speech to the crowd at the end of the
torch relay. He spoke through an interpreter because he is not fluent
in the Tibetan language.

Many exiled Tibetans are angered at China's decision to send the
torch relay to Tibet, seeing it as a transparent attempt to assert
Chinese dominance over the mountainous Buddhist region.

One group, Students for a Free Tibet, said the thousands of
paramilitary forces in Lhasa were proof that the city was virtually
under martial law.

"With the way it has militarized the Tibetan capital, China might as
well parade the Olympic torch through Lhasa atop a tank," said Han
Shan, the group's Olympics campaign co-ordinator. "Chinese
authorities in Tibet apparently believe that Olympic spirit grows out
of the barrel of a gun."

Human rights groups were also critical of the decision to parade the
torch through the Tibetan capital. "This provocative decision -- with
the blessing of the International Olympic Committee - could aggravate
tensions and undermine the fragile process to find a peaceful
long-term solution for Tibet and the region," said Sharon Hom,
executive director of Human Rights in China, in a statement today.

"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."
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