Olympic torch relay enters China’s ethnically divided far west

June 17th, 2008 - 5:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, June 17 (DPA) An Olympic torch relay leg was held in China’s ethnically divided far western region of Xinjiang Tuesday, as exiled Uighurs alleged that the government had vetted spectators and threatened to arrest anyone discussing sensitive political topics with foreign journalists. Uighur boxer Abuduxikeer Mijiti ran the first stretch as the relay moved from People’s Square in Urumqi, the capital of the vast Central Asian region, the Beijing Olympic organizers (BOCOG) said.

“Traditional dances and songs will be performed at designated points along the relay route, highlighting the rich ethnic diversity of Xinjiang,” BOCOG said in a report on its website.

Dilxat Rexit, the Munich-based spokesperson for the World Uighur Congress, said the government had vetted all Uighur participants and spectators.

Li Guangming, the Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang’s sports administration, urged people in Urumqi to stay at home Tuesday because of safety concerns if too many people took to the streets.

“On the day of the event, the capital (Urumqi) expects that more than 100,000 residents, organized in work-unit groups, will shout their encouragement on the streets,” Xinjiang Daily, the region’s official newspaper, Monday quoted Li as saying.

“But, considering that if the numbers are too large it will result in safety issues, we recommend that everyone watches the live broadcast at home on television,” Li said.

In another statement Monday, the World Uighur Congress accused China of “trying to use this event to conceal the widespread discontentment of Uighurs”.

The dates of the relay in Xinjiang were brought forward one week, and the changes were only announced on Sunday.

The torch relay is scheduled to move to China’s Tibet region after runs in two other cities in Xinjiang Thursday, although the exact schedule in Tibet remains unclear.

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