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Page last updated at 03:44 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 04:44 UK

Torch passed to Silk Road oasis

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Crowds are kept away from the torch by security forces

China's torch relay has moved on to the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, on the second day of its journey through the mainly Muslim Xinjiang region.

Hundreds of police lined the streets as the first torch-bearer set off.

The Xinjiang leg is a highly sensitive part of the relay. Relations between the Chinese authorities and the Muslim Uighur people are tense.

Officials fear separatists may target the relay but its run in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, on Tuesday was calm.

The relay was moved forward by one week in an apparent bid to avoid unrest.

In Beijing, meanwhile, Olympic organisers have confirmed that the torch will reach Tibet - another potential hotspot - on Saturday.

A planned three-day stay there has been cut to one day because of schedule adjustments linked to last month's Sichuan earthquake, they said.

The relay will run through the main city, Lhasa, where there were violent anti-China protests in March.

Police presence

Chinese authorities have been working to ensure that the Xinjiang segment of the relay passes off smoothly, despite the tensions in the region.

CHINA'S UIGHURS
Map
Ethnically Turkic Muslims, mainly in Xinjiang
Made bid for independent state in 1940s
Sporadic violence in Xinjiang since 1991
Uighurs worried about Chinese immigration and erosion of traditional culture

Many Uighurs resent the large-scale influx of Han Chinese settlers into resource-rich Xinjiang. There is periodic violence attributed to groups seeking an independent Islamic nation.

Beijing accuses these groups of links to al-Qaeda and says it has uncovered a number of Xinjiang-based plots targeting the Olympic Games.

But human rights groups say China uses the alleged terror links as a way of cracking down on the independence movement.

Kashgar is seen as one of the main Islamic centres in the region - more so than Urumqi, where Tuesday's relay passed off peacefully.

The relay in Kashgar began at the main square in front of the city's giant Idkhar Mosque.

The BBC's James Reynolds, in Kashgar, said that there was a huge security presence, with police searching people thoroughly.

BBC Beijing correspondent James Reynolds
We saw sizeable but very carefully chosen crowds on both sides of the road
James Reynolds

As in Urumqi, some residents told the BBC they had been told to stay at home and watch the relay on television.

A short ceremony was held in the square and then the first runner ran out on a red carpet in front of a carefully-selected cheering crowd, our correspondent said.

After the torch's run through the Silk Road oasis city of Kashgar, it moves on to the cities of Shihezi and Changji on Thursday.


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