Fri, Jun 20, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Olympic torch is paraded through key military oasis

AFP , BEIJING

The Beijing Olympic torch paraded through a key military post in China's Muslim-dominated northwestern region of Xinjiang yesterday as police patrolled for terrorist activities, the government said.

Thousands of mostly Han Chinese watched the torch pass through the oasis town of Shihezi, one of the command centers of the Xinjiang Production Corps, a military group that has spearheaded China’s “liberation” of the restive region.

“Shihezi is a new city reclaimed by the military and populated by, designed by and built by the military,” Song Zhiguo (宋志國), the city’s top communist official, said at the start of the relay. “Through the Olympic torch relay, we can fully display Shihezi’s vibrant environment and the results of our military’s uniquely beautiful cultivation of this area.”

Yesterday’s Olympic relay marked the third and final day that the torch passed through Xinjiang, a region predominantly populated by Uighurs, a minority people with little resemblance to Han Chinese.

Shihezi is largely built on reclaimed desert land and boasts a population of 640,000 people, of which just under 6 percent are an ethnic minority, the Shihezi government Web site said.

“We must make serious efforts to prevent Xinjiang independence forces and terrorists from sabotaging the Beijing Olympic torch relay,” the Production Corps News quoted He Qiang (何強), the city’s chief of police, as saying at a security meeting on Wednesday.

The flame’s travels through Xinjiang and the Tibetan regions of China are considered the most sensitive legs on the three-month journey to the August Beijing Games because of simmering discontent among ethnic groups.

Tomorrow, the flame will travel to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, where deadly anti-China riots erupted in March.

According to the Germany-based World Uighur Congress, an exile group that advocates creating an independent East Turkestan in Xinjiang, China stations up to 2.5 million soldiers in the region who largely act as a colonial force.

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