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Torch relay begins in Tibet amid security

The relay, marred during its international legs by protests over Beijing's policies in Tibet, made its way through Lhasa amid tight security.

world Updated: Jun 21, 2008 19:06 IST

The Olympic torch made its way through Tibet's sealed-off capital on Saturday, a day after a Chinese official announced additional sentences handed down over anti-government riots that rocked the city three months earlier.

The relay, marred during its international legs by protests over Beijing's policies in the Himalayan region, began winding its way through Lhasa's streets at 9 am (0100 GMT).

The 6.8-mile (11-kilometer) run began at Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama's former summer palace from where Tibet's traditional Buddhist leader fled into exile in 1959. The relay will end at the hilltop Potala Palace, the traditional seat of Tibetan rulers. Police and soldiers lined the route, keeping a close eye on flag-waving onlookers arrayed on either side.

On Friday, Palma Trily, the vice-governor of Tibet's Chinese-appointed administration, said he was confident that Saturday's relay would pass through the city without incident. Palma Trily also used the briefing to announce that 12 more people had been sentenced for taking part in a March 14 riot in the city that spawned further protests throughout Tibetan-inhabited regions of western China. He gave no details about their offenses or the punishments meted out.

Palma Trily said another 1,157 people had been released from detention over minor offenses related to the violent anti-government protests, in which Beijing says 22 people died.

Chinese officials say the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, was behind the March unrest. They also accuse the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate of trying to sabotage the Beijing Olympics and preparing "suicide squads" to carry out attacks. The Dalai Lama has denied the charges.

Tibet has been under a security clampdown since March and is still closed to foreign tourists. Foreign journalists have been allowed to visit only as part of closely monitored government tours. Activist groups say the torch relay leg in Tibet and a separate relay to the peak of Mount Everest are an attempt by Chinese leaders to symbolise their control over the Himalayan region. China says it has ruled Tibet for centuries, although many Tibetans say their homeland was essentially independent for much of that time.