Olympic torch relay starts in Tibet - 6/21/2008
The Olympic torch relay got underway in the Tibetan capital Lhasa on Saturday amid tight security after deadly riots against Chinese rule in the city just three months ago.
Hand-picked spectators cheered the torch as the latest leg of the relay started shortly after 9 am (0100 GMT) in front of Norbulingka, the former summer residence of the Dalai Lama.
Paramilitary police kept a close watch from the ground and from surrounding buildings, while the area was cordoned off to everyone other than those given special passes to attend the relay, an AFP photographer witnessed.
The first torch bearer was Gonpo, a 75-year-old Tibetan mountaineering hero, according to Chinese state television.
He handed the torch to Li Suzhi, head of the military hospital in Lhasa, while the last runner was expected to be Caidan Zhuoma, a famous Tibetan singer.
The first few minutes of the event, which appeared to have been carefully rehearsed, were transmitted live on Chinese television.
China's rule over Tibet drew international concern following Beijing's crackdown on unrest that broke out in Lhasa in March.
Exiled Tibetan leaders say 203 people died in the clampdown, while China has reported killing one Tibetan "insurgent" and says "rioters" were responsible for 21 deaths.
Protesters, angry over the crackdown and China's human rights, targeted the torch during its round-the-world journey in April, before it arrived on the Chinese mainland ahead of the Games in Beijing in August.
Pro-Tibet activists have argued that the leg in Lhasa should be cancelled due to the unrest.
On the eve of the leg, Chinese media revealed that Beijing had released a total of 1,157 people who were involved in the Tibetan riots.
They had been detained for minor offences connected with the unrest, a Tibetan official told media.
Human Rights in China, a New York-based rights group, said Saturday it was "deeply concerned" by the Chinese authorities' decision to send the torch to Tibet.
"This provocative decision -- with the blessing of the International Olympic Committee -- could aggravate tensions and undermine the fragile process to find a peaceful long-term solution for Tibet and the region," said Human Rights in China Executive Director Sharon Hom.
"The government's insistence on parading the torch through Lhasa can only undermine the respect and trust required for a genuine dialogue process with the Dalai Lama," she said in a statement.