Tibet clouds Olympic torch's relay route

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2008, 12:00am

Olympic torch relay organisers played hide-and-seek with the event's itinerary yesterday, with big questions hanging over when and where the Olympic flame will travel in the coming week.

The Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Bocog) abruptly announced on Sunday that after the Chongqing stage had ended yesterday the relay would head directly to Xinjiang - not Tibet and Qinghai as originally scheduled. China News Service reported that the flame would not pass through Tibet and Qinghai as planned.

Bocog gave no explanation for the changes, but there were signs that the move was grounded in Beijing's concerns about security, especially in Tibet, where unrest erupted in March, and Qinghai.

But according to Bocog's website yesterday, the torch will spend three days in Xinjiang from today, with a Tibet stage set to run from Thursday until Saturday and a three-day Qinghai stage starting on Sunday.

A Bocog official in charge of the torch relay said the three days of national mourning for Sichuan victims last month had disrupted relay arrangements.

'For the moment, the torch relay timetable can only be clarified stage by stage, and we cannot come up with a whole and complete version,' the official said.

Quoting one unnamed torch-bearer for the Tibet leg, The Beijing News reported yesterday that the original two-day stage in Lhasa had been cut to a one-day run on Saturday and a day-long event in Shannan prefecture had been scrapped.

'There will be changes to the number of days for the Tibet torch relay,' the Bocog official said. 'As for whether the Tibet torch relay will be a one-day or two-day event, please follow closely the updated itinerary on our website.'

The official brushed aside speculation that Tibet would be bypassed, but uncertainty about the Tibet stage has affected preparations there.

'We are at a loss about [preparatory] work for the torch, and we are waiting for further information to give us further and clearer directions,' Tibet Autonomous Region government publicity officer Tashi said.

Ma Xin , a security adviser to Bocog, said that last-minute schedule tweaks were a conventional tactic employed to improve security at major public events.

Susan Brownell, a researcher studying the Olympics in the capital, said arrangements for Tibet reflected the authorities' fear of potential unrest in the Himalayan region.

Since the March 14 riots in Tibet, security problems have been a lingering concern for Beijing.

The Communist Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily, said yesterday that China had appointed top terrorism expert Yang Huanning as a deputy public security minister in anticipation of Olympic-related security threats.

Mr Yang's publicly disclosed resume shows he graduated from Southwest Politics and Law University in criminal detection science in 1983 before becoming deputy minister at the Public Security Ministry.

He left the job in 2005 to go to Heilongjiang province to become party secretary of the province's commission of politics and law.

Observers said Mr Yang's comeback signalled Beijing's intention to neutralise government critics in the restive western regions.

Additional reporting by Klaudia Lee