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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Security and choreography mark Silk Road torch relay

June 20, 2008

By Ben Blanchard
Reuters Canada
Jun 18, 2008 10:07am EDT

KASHGAR, China (Reuters) - The Olympic torch was paraded on Wednesday
through China's sensitive former Silk Road city of Kashgar, home to
ethnic-minority Muslim Uighurs, under the scrutiny of soldiers and
choreographed cheering crowds.

China banned all but carefully chosen members of the public, such as
Islamic leaders in headdresses and children in traditional attire,
from the relay route and ordered everyone else to stay at home and
watch on television.

"We weren't allowed to go and see it," said a Uighur woman in the
backstreets in the old part of the oasis city. "But even if we were,
I think people would have stayed away anyway."

China has accused Uighur separatists in oil-rich Xinjiang of plotting
attacks with al Qaeda's support to help achieve their goal of an
independent country they call East Turkestan.

The torch relay was meant to be a symbol of national unity and pride
for China, but it was dogged by anti-government protests on its
international leg after the clampdown on rioting in Tibet. At home,
authorities are at pains to ensure its smooth journey, especially in
troubled areas such as Xinjiang.

As in Tibet, many Uighurs resent the migration of Han Chinese to the
region and controls on their culture and religion.

Shops were shut in Kashgar as small groups waved Chinese and Olympic
flags under a bright, clear sky. Between the groups, the streets were
deserted as a group of about 40 security guards in blue T-shirts and
black gloves accompanied the torch.

At the start, Uighur children, some holding large flags, chanted "Go
China, Go Olympics, Go Sichuan and Go Kashgar" in the square outside
the giant Idkhar Mosque, closed to the public. The Sichuan mention
referred to last month's devastating earthquake.

At the finish at People's Square, under a huge statue of Mao Zedong,
the father of Communist China, Uighurs half-heartedly waved flags in
marked contrast to relays elsewhere in China where joyous crowds have
thronged the streets.

Everyone on the streets wore a sticker with a number and the Olympic
flame in an apparent security measure, as soldiers lined the route at
every 30 meters (yards).

"Kasghar will be even more harmonious after the torch relay," the
city's deputy Communist Party boss, Akbar Wufuer, told a select crowd
of government officials and children at the event's end, making no
mention of the tight security.

FOILED PLOTS

China says it has cracked at least two Xinjiang-based militant plots
this year, one involving an attempt to bring down an airliner flying
to Beijing and the other to kidnap foreigners and carry out suicide
attacks at the Olympics.

Propaganda posters in Chinese and English and flags to welcome the
torch were strung along the relay route, though there was little
evidence of the Uighur language being used and hardly any signs or
flags in Kasghar's backstreets.

"Welcome the Olympics, preserve stability," read one large,
stern-sounding banner hung over a school entrance, in a reminder of
the region's ethnic woes.

Even the city's sewers appeared to have been included in a thorough
security sweep, with tape stuck across manhole covers as seals to
make it easier to spot any underground infiltration.

Foreign reporters were banned from talking to anyone watching the
torch along its route, despite China pledging complete media freedom
when it applied to host the Olympics.

On Saturday, the flame is due to be relayed through Lhasa, the
Tibetan capital where anti-China protests broke out in March.

Foreign rights groups say China has carried out a crackdown in
Xinjiang ahead of the Beijing Games, which open on August 8.

"Over the past three months a blanket ban on all religious activities
and gatherings outside of state-controlled mosques was imposed," said
Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch.

"Informers are everywhere, as evidenced by tourists interrogated by
the police about the most mundane activity such has having had a
conversation with a Uighur fruit vendor."

(Editing by Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson)

(For more stories visit our multimedia website "Road to Beijing"
here; and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)
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