Olympic torch relay skips Tibet in sudden change of schedule

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 June, 2008, 12:00am


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The Tibetan leg of the Olympic torch relay has been postponed.

The flame would not pass through Tibet and Qinghai as planned, the official China News Service reported yesterday.

The torch was due to reach Tibet tomorrow after completing its journey in Chongqing today, but would now head directly to Xinjiang , the report said.

The flame would visit four cities in the autonomous region - Urumqi , Kashgar , Shihezi and Chongjin - from tomorrow to Thursday, involving 624 torch-bearers.

An official with Games organiser Bocog confirmed the altered itinerary on condition of anonymity, but refused to offer any explanation.

The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said the change was due to concerns over 'some security abnormalities' in Tibet, hinting at the possibility of bomb attacks.

The Bocog website shows the updated itinerary, with Xinjiang placed immediately after Chongqing, and Tibet and Qinghai following Xinjiang.

The dates set for Xinjiang and Tibet currently overlap - on June 19 - indicating that Bocog has not yet set the final dates for the Tibetan leg.

The relay in Tibet has already been shortened to two days from three to make up for time lost during three days of national mourning for Sichuan earthquake victims.

The latest changes raise uncertainty over the itinerary for the remaining provinces. Repeated phone calls to Bocog for clarification were met with the answer 'it's not clear'.

'To be frank, under the current circumstances we are only able to confirm all the details of certain stops within the next 10 days. Beyond that time frame a lot of things are up in the air,' Shao Shiwei, a deputy director of Bocog, said.

Since the March 14 riots in Tibet, security problems have been a lingering concern for Beijing. But Bocog said on March 19 that neither security problems nor criminal cases would affect plans for the torch relay.