Olympics torch paraded through Tibet

by Ken Teh

The Olympic torch was paraded through the streets of Tibet's capital Saturday, the site of bloody riots in March that triggered demonstrations along the flame's international relay stops.

Tight security accompanied the flame over its three-hour journey through the historic city, the day after officials announced more jail sentences related to the deadly riots.

The torch next travels to neighboring Qinghai province before gradually winding its way across northern China toward Beijing. A special Aug. 3-5 stop in Sichuan was added to honor victims of last month's earthquake ahead of the Aug. 8 opening ceremony in Beijing.

The roughly 6-mile run began at Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama's former summer palace from where Tibet's traditional Buddhist leader fled into exile in 1959. It ended at a vast square at the base of the hilltop Potala Palace, the traditional seat of Tibetan rulers.

Hundreds of police and paramilitary troops lined the route. Onlookers, who had been carefully screened beforehand, waved flags and chanted "go China."

About half of the 156 torch runners were ethnic Tibetan, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The Lhasa leg saw the reunion of the main torch with a separate one carried earlier to the top of Mount Everest — one of the highlights of the grandiose global relay that drew ugly confrontations at some of its international stops between Chinese supporters and groups protesting Beijing's human rights record and policies toward Tibet and Sudan.

On Friday, Palma Trily, the vice-governor of Tibet's Chinese-appointed administration, told foreign reporters Tibetan exile groups were seeking to sabotage the torch run. The reporters were required to travel in a closely guarded convoy and only allowed to cover the opening and closing legs, isolating them from contact with ordinary residents.

Lhasa, which has been under a security lockdown since the riots, all but shut down for the relay, with streets deserted and most shops closed.

A security cordon was thrown up around Potala Square, with costumed performers taking the place of Buddhist pilgrims who visit to turn prayer wheels and prostrate themselves in front of the palace, which is now a museum.

Palma Trily also announced that 12 more people had been sentenced for taking part in the March 14 riot in the city that spawned further protests throughout Tibetan-inhabited regions of western China. He gave no details about their offenses or the punishments meted out.

Palma Trily said another 1,157 people had been released from detention over minor offenses related to the violent anti-government protests, in which Beijing says 22 people died.

Chinese officials say the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, was behind the March unrest. They also accuse the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate of trying to sabotage the Beijing Olympics and preparing "suicide squads" to carry out attacks. The Dalai Lama has denied the charges.

Tibet is still closed to foreign tourists. Foreign journalists have been allowed to visit only as part of closely monitored government tours.

Activist groups say the torch relay leg in Tibet and the separate relay to the peak of Mount Everest are an attempt by Chinese leaders to symbolize their control over the Himalayan region.

China says it has ruled Tibet for centuries, although many Tibetans say their homeland was essentially independent for much of that time.

New York-based 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."

Copyright © 2008 Associated Press

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