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China: Olympic flame reaches Lhasa but Tibetans are kept in dark

Posted by Author on June 24, 2008

Jane Macartney, China Correspondent, Times Online, UK, June 23, 2008-

Armed troops patrol the streets of Lhasa and Tibetan monks and Buddhist pilgrims have virtually disappeared from the sacred prayer path that surrounds Tibet’s holiest temple in the heart of the capital. There is no sign that China is ready yet to loosen the security clampdown imposed after Tibetans rioted in the streets more than three months ago.

Instead, the army patrols and identity checks were stepped up last week as the Himalayan city prepared for its brief moment as host of the Olympic torch on its relay through China. The passage of the flame, curtailed from three days to only one, went off without incident and virtually without an audience at the weekend.

The authorities ordered everyone in the city, even tourists, to stay inside with their windows closed until midday on Saturday when the torch relay ended. Thousands of troops were out in force, standing a mere five metres apart on many roads, to ensure that the curfew was obeyed.

Only a hand-picked few were allowed out to watch the torch as it was carried from the summer palace of the Dalai Lama to the towering crimson and white Potala Palace that was his winter home until he fled into exile during an abortive anti-Chinese uprising in 1959.

One Han Chinese resident was determined not to let the restrictions hamper his enjoyment of a glimpse of the Olympic torch in Lhasa. “Reliable Communist Party members were chosen long ago as the people who would attend the ceremony in Potala Square,” he said.

He could not even watch on television as the torch was relayed between 156 runners, including 75 ethnic Tibetans. Only the start and finish of the relay were broadcast, in stark contrast to the usual coverage by China’s sports channel, which has shown each stage of the relay live on television.

Lhasa residents said that the level of security in the streets and the absence of an audience along the route made it too embarrassing to show the event. Instead, viewers were treated to programmes about Tibet’s ancient temples until the torch had completed its journey safely.

The grand finale at the foot of the Potala Palace that has been home to most of Tibet’s 14 Dalai Lamas was an opportunity for the region’s Communist Party boss to warn Tibetans of the futility of any attempts to seek independence. …… (more details from The Times Online)

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