China begins sensitive Xinjiang torch relay leg

URUMQI, June 17, 2008 (AFP) – China Tuesday kicked off the Olympic torch relay’s sensitive leg through Xinjiang, a largely Muslim western region where Beijing acknowledges there are ethnic tensions. Under sunny skies, the regional capital Urumqi was largely shut down with police checkpoints restricting movement throughout the normally bustling city as the relay got underway.

The legs through Xinjiang and the Tibetan regions of China are considered the most sensitive of the flame’s three-month tour of the country because of simmering discontent among local ethnic groups.

The three-day, four-city Xinjiang leg began with a 12-kilometre (7.5-mile) relay through Urumqi that started on People’s Square, considered a symbol of Chinese Communist power in the city.

Police had imposed particularly heavy security at the People’s Square, and anyone entering had to go through metal detectors and bag searches.

The crowd on the square, numbering around 3,000, chanted “Go, China!” and “Go, Olympics!” Many wore stickers of the Chinese flag on their cheeks.

They were overwhelmingly Han Chinese, with only a tiny number of Uighurs, the largest ethnic group in the region.

Leading away from