Thousands of Indian police prepared to seal off the heart of New Delhi on Wednesday as Tibetan activists ramped up protests ahead of what will be a short, heavily guarded leg of the Olympic torch relay.
The flame is set to arrive from neighbouring Pakistan late Wednesday for one of the most sensitive stretches of its global voyage, with India home to more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees, many of them organised and media savvy.
Police on Wednesday manned yellow barricades leading to India Gate, the monument to slain Indian soldiers and the end point of the truncated torch run, which has been shortened from nine kilometres (six miles) to three kilometres.
Green corrugated fencing also obscured the sandstone arch and its surrounding gardens, where Tibetans ran a mock torch relay on Tuesday under the noses of police who were holding a security planning meeting there.
The beleaguered torch run ran into fresh trouble on Wednesday, with the city saying it would not send schoolchildren -- among the few members of the public invited to witness the run -- to attend the ceremony, NDTV news channel said.
No explanation was given for the decision, which leaves the relay virtually closed off from public view except for the estimated 15,000 policemen who will line the road leading from the presidential palace to India Gate.
Some 20 Chinese guards will also accompany the flame, irking Indians still smarting from memories of a brief border war between the two nations four decades ago.
Traffic will be cut off to the centre on Thursday and metro stations will also be shut down to prevent Tibetan protesters from disrupting the run, the Hindustan Times daily reported.
Tibetan groups were meanwhile ratcheting up protests.
India is home to the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who fled to the country after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in his homeland, as well as to several pro-independence Tibetan groups.
About 50 protesters ran past the Chinese embassy Wednesday morning brandishing Tibetan flags before they were hauled away by Indian police, an AFP correspondent witnessed.
Some 3,000 protesters will be on the streets of New Delhi on Thursday, according to members of Tibet's parliament-in-exile who are organising an alternative torch run and sit-in near India's parliament.
"We will have a parallel peace run," Youdon Aukatsang, a Tibetan parliament member, told AFP. "Our torch will be a symbol of our nonviolent peaceful struggle. It is not our plan to disrupt the Olympic torch."
But other Tibet protest groups said they will try to breach the ring of security surrounding the torch.
"Our members will try to go as close as possible," said Dhondup Dorjee, vice president of the pro-independence Tibetan Youth Congress.
"Chinese armed guards will be guarding the torch. We will go as close as possible and ask them to shoot us down.