Olympic torch relay enters China's ethnically divided far west
An Olympic torch relay leg was held in China's ethnically divided far western region of Xinjiang on Tuesday, as exiled Uighurs alleged that the government had vetted spectators and threatened to arrest anyone discussing sensitive political topics with foreign journalists, reported dpa.
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.
The government warned that it would "seriously handle" Uighurs who "independently accepted or voluntarily discussed with journalists sensitive national issues or ethnic problems", Dilxat Rexit said in a statement.
"More serious cases will be charged with revealing state secrets," he said.
"China has coerced the Uighurs who are deemed qualified spectators into shouting 'Come on, China' and examined their political standpoints," he said.
Dilxat Rexit said more than 10,000 Uighurs without residence permits were expelled from Urumqi and Xinjiang's ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, where a torch parade is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.
Li Guangming, the Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang's sports administration, urged people in Urumqi to stay at home on 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, on 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 on Monday, the World Uighur Congress accused China of "trying to use this event to conceal the widespread discontentment of Uighurs".
Dilxat Rexit said China wanted to show a "false atmosphere of harmonious society" and hide "systematic violations of human rights in East Turkestan", using the name still given to Xinjiang by Uighurs seeking an independent state there.
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 legs in two other cities in Xinjiang on Thursday, although the exact schedule in Tibet remains unclear.
Exiled Tibetan groups and their supporters also accuse the Chinese government of taking the Olympic torch to Tibet to reaffirm its sovereignty over the region.
Some 7.5 million Uighurs, most of whom are Muslims, form the largest minority among Xinjiang's 20 million people.
Millions of ethnically Chinese people have migrated to the region since it came under Communist Party control in 1949.