Olympic torch relay enters Tibetan "paradise" in China
The Olympic torch relay passed through a predominantly Tibetan area of China on Wednesday, the first time it has entered a populated Tibetan area since violent anti-Chinese protests erupted in March, reported dpa.
Organizers said the relay was scheduled to cover 6.5 kilometres in the tourist town of Shangri-la, formerly known as Zhongdian, in the south-western province of Yunnan.
It would reportedly pass Yunnan's largest Tibetan Buddhist temple, Gedan Songzanlin.
The only previous time the Olympic flame was paraded in a Tibetan area of China was for the May 8 ascent with a special high-altitude torch to the summit of the world's highest peak, Everest.
The remote area around the 8,848-metre mountain was cordoned off to the public by paramilitary police from late April, following widespread unrest and rioting in Tibetan areas of China since mid-March.
Earlier international legs of the torch relay attracted anti-Chinese protests by exiled Tibetans and Western supporters of Tibetan independence, who were angered by a government crackdown on the Tibetan protesters in China.
Doubts remain about the government's plans for a torch relay leg through Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region and scene of some of the worst rioting in March.
Sources said in late May that the organizers were considering shortening the politically sensitive leg through Tibet because of the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province.
Originally, the torch was to be carried for three days through Tibet, but a spokesperson for the organizers said it would be "shortened" and "simplified" to one or two days on June 18 and 19.
Many Tibetan exiles accuse China's ruling Communist Party of using the torch relay to confirm and solidify its rule over the Himalayan region.
Troops were reportedly deployed in mid-March on the streets of Shangri-la, but little trouble was reported from the town.
Shangri-la has become a magnet for tourists since it beat at least two rival Tibetan areas of China to win government approval for the change of name from Zhongdian in 2002.
The towns all claimed to be the mythical earthly paradise depicted in James Hilton's 1933 novel "Lost Horizon."