The Olympic torch’s trip through Tibet next month will be shortened, Beijing Games organizers said yesterday, in a move that could minimize any outcry over the controversial relay leg.
The torch’s passage through Tibet will be cut from three days to just one as part of route changes made because of China’s earthquake, an official with the Beijing Games organizers said.
“The change is due to the Sichuan earthquake’s impact on the rest of the relay. Because of this, the sacred flame will only pass through [the Tibetan capital] Lhasa for one day,” said Li Lizhi, an information officer with the Beijing Olympics.
“It will probably be in Lhasa on June 18 but we are waiting to confirm that,” she said.
The Olympic torch had been scheduled to transit a district south of Lhasa on June 19 before spending the following two days in the Tibetan capital, where fierce rioting against Chinese rule erupted in March.
The protests in March revealed deep anger against China’s control of the devoutly Buddhist region, and overseas pro-Tibet activists have denounced the Tibet leg — which was planned well before the unrest — as a further snub to Tibetans and world opinion.
The change is the latest made after tens of thousands of people were killed in the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan Province.
China called three days of national mourning last week, during which the torch relay was halted, and has made various adjustments to make up for those lost days.
The torch’s relay is the longest and most ambitious in Olympic history. Following a one-month world tour last month, it is now on a three-month domestic circuit that has included taking a torch to the summit of Mount Everest.
However, since the flame was first lit in Greece on March 24, the relay has been repeatedly disrupted by groups trying to highlight grievances against China’s communist rulers, especially their rule of Tibet.
Matt Whitticase, spokesman for the London-based Free Tibet Campaign, said earlier this month that the Tibet leg was an attempt by China to “underscore its baseless claims to sovereignty over Tibet.”
During the Tibet unrest, protesters denounced Chinese rule and called for the return of the exiled Dalai Lama. Speaking on Wednesday during a trip to London, the Dalai Lama urged Tibetans not to disrupt the torch relay.
“I appeal, particularly inside Tibet, [people] should not disrupt the Olympic torch when they visit. We must respect, we must protect that,” he told reporters.
Olympic organizers had already pushed back the torch’s leg through quake-devastated Sichuan Province to Aug. 3 to Aug. 5, making it the last stop before coming to Beijing for the Aug. 8 to Aug. 24 Games.
The torch was in the eastern province of Jiangsu yesterday.