Torch relay visits Sichuan earthquake zone

After a controversial journey dogged by international protests over China's crackdown in Tibet, the Olympic torch made a poignant visit to the Sichuan earthquake zone, shortly before the region was hit by a 6.0 magnitude aftershock yesterday.

As the torch arrived in Beijing last night, Chinese Olympics chiefs insisted the country was safe for athletes and spectators.

They have stepped up security after an attack on a police station in Kashgar, in the restive Xinjiang province, in which 16 policemen were killed. An official in Xinjiang said 18 foreign terrorists had been arrested.

The security clampdown is translating into further breaches of China's promises to ensure press freedom for the Games.

Two Japanese journalists in Kashgar to report on the attack were beaten up by police, forcing an embarrassing apology, while Beijing municipal authorities reversed earlier media freedom pledges when they said foreign reporters would now have to apply 24 hours in advance to do interviews on Tiananmen Square, site of the massacre of pro-democracy activists on 4 June 1989.

The torch will make various journeys around the city before travelling to the Bird's Nest stadium on Friday to light the Olympic cauldron.

Runners carried the torch through eight miles of an industrial part of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, but they avoided one of the city's older areas, which historically has housed Tibetan communities. Sichuan, which was devastated by a 7.9-magnitude quake on 12 May, was the last stop for the Olympic flame. The Sichuan leg had originally been scheduled for mid-June but was postponed to support disaster-relief efforts. More than 69,000 people are confirmed killed and some five million were left homeless in the earthquake. There were reports of another 6.0-magnitude shock late yesterday, but no casualties were reported.

Busloads of police officers and troops with riot shields and helmets lined the route as it passed through Chengdu. Security checkpoints were set up for spectators. The torch was run through some of the worst affected areas, including football stadiums used to house survivors in the immediate aftermath.

In March and April, the relay was disrupted by protests in London, Paris and other cities, and the IOC has said it is considering whether to eliminate international relays in the future.

China's relay was far and away the longest ever. Since it has arrived back in China, where it is enormously popular, the torch relay has had a peaceful course through the host nation.

"I am convinced the Games will be a great success and will be well organised. These Games will leave a fantastic legacy for China," said the IOC president Jacques Rogge, who insisted the committee would always retain its tradition of lighting the Olympic flame in Olympia and starting the torch relay in Greece. However, he said the IOC might consider limiting the torch relay to domestic routes within the Olympic host countries.

China's triumphant global torch relay has left a bitter taste with many, particularly as it followed hard on the heels of footage of Chinese armed police taking on monks in Lhasa and other Tibetan sites.

A senior IOC member said the Beijing Olympics escaped political boycotts only because of goodwill following May's earthquake.

"This came very close to becoming a disaster. The risks were obvious and should have been assessed a little more carefully. The result is there was a crisis affecting the games," said Dick Pound, the Canadian member, during the IOC's general assembly yesterday.

"In my country and in many other countries in my part of the world, we were in full boycott mode," said Mr Pound. "Public opinion and political opinion was moving toward an actual boycott of the Games, and it was only the earthquake tragedy that diverted attention from what could otherwise have been something very, very serious."

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering