Ahead of torch arrival, Delhi secured against Tibetans

April 16th, 2008 - 10:41 pm ICT by admin  


New Delhi, April 16 (IANS) The heart of the Indian capital turned into a fortress Wednesday as the government took unprecedented security steps to guard the Olympic torch whose run has been dogged by protests in the West. Besides deploying thousands of police and paramilitary personnel around the India Gate monument that turned the lawns into a sea of khaki, the authorities ordered office buildings overlooking the route of the 2.5 km run virtually closed for Thursday’s afternoon event.

Access to these buildings were either restricted or prohibited to prevent Tibetans and other protesters from reaching any vantage point from where snipers could possibly target the torch or someone could hang protest banners.

There were even fears that some militant Tibetans could resort to suicide attacks or self-immolation bids, police officials said. The nerbvousness increased Wednesday as about 100 Tibetans made a futile attempt to storm the Chinese embassy here despite heavy police presence. The protesters were quickly whisked away.

The security drill followed India’s assurances to Beijing that it will provide foolproof security to the torch and the relay even as New Delhi made it clear that Chinese security personnel would have nothing to do with the event.

The Olympic torch arrives here shortly after midnight on its crucial India leg to a country where tens of thousands of Tibetan exiles live.

The exact time of the relay was kept a top secret, though Rajpath - the road from the presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate - will be closed to traffic and pedestrians from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. The metro service to the area is also being suspended.

New intelligence inputs about five Chinese nationals crossing from the Nepal border into the capital to disrupt the flame ceremony have put the security establishment on even higher alert than before.

According to intelligence inputs, five Chinese nationals - Mohammad Abdullah, Abdul Khalid, Umar Aziz, Yousaf Sattar and Abdullah Daoud - have crossed the Nepal border and are in the national capital.

The Intelligence Bureau has provided photographs of the five men to the police and warned that they might attempt to disrupt the torch run at Rajpath.

The police said the men are from Xinjiang region of China and are suspected to be involved in the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant Uyghur outfit that advocates an independent Islamic state of East Turkestan.

Seventy athletes and other celebrities will carry the torch in an event that former police officer Kiran Bedi, who declined to participate, described as a “caged run”.

Indian Olympics Association (IOA) chief Suresh Kalmadi said the runners would include the country’s top current and former athletes, such as sprint stars Anju Bobby George, P.T. Usha, ace tennis star Leander Paes, shooters Manavjit Singh and Abhinav Bindra, boxer Akhil Kumar and hockey player Dhanraj Pillay.

Actors Saif Ali Khan, Amir Khan, Sagarika Ghatge of “Chak De India” fame and Sarod player Ayan Ali Khan will also be seen in action.

Only select VIPs and others have been invited to the opening and the closing of the torch relay, barring the spectacle to public view. Around 3,000 schoolchildren, screened by security, will be present at the ceremony.

The relay route has been completed barricaded with over 4,000 security personnel guarding it overnight to protesting Tibetan protesters at bay. The Chinese embassy was ringed with policemen and all routes to it were sealed off with iron girders and concertina wires.

Police have denied permission to Tibetans to hold a parallel torch relay or stage protests in the city.

Some Tibetans who have been camping here ahead of the Olympic torch relay have reportedly gone missing, “probably to stage surprise attacks”, said intelligence officials.

“We will defy the ban and stage our own rally,” said Dhondup Dorjee, vice president of the Tibetan Youth Congress.

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans who heads a government in exile in the Himalayan resort of Dharamsala, meanwhile was in Japan even as Tibetan hotheads said they were prepared to defy his call for peace to fight for their rights.

Organisers of the relay, however, exuded confidence that the event would pass off without a hitch.

“The entire world is looking up to India and the expectation is that the torch relay will be one of the greatest shows here,” Kalmadi told reporters.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to live up to the expectations of the world community.”

“As per international rules, there will be two Chinese torch attendants accompanying the flame on the route,” Kalmadi said.

“But there will be no Chinese security. The safety of the torch is India’s responsibility,” he stressed.

“We are confident that the relay will be successful. We don’t want a repeat of what happened in London and Paris,” he said while alluding to disruptions of the torch relay in Paris and London recently by pro-Tibet protesters.

However, unlike the celebratory mood ahead of the Seoul Olympics in 2004, the atmosphere this time round is much subdued, bristling with undercurrents of fear about things going wrong despite stringent security.

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