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India slashes Olympic torch relay route

India has trimmed the route for the Olympic torch relay this week, fearing Tibetan protesters might try to disrupt the procession, an official said on Tuesday.
/ Source: Reuters

India has trimmed the route for the Olympic torch relay this week, fearing Tibetan protesters might try to disrupt the procession, an official said on Tuesday.

The final route is still to be announced, but the Indian media have reported the torch will travel less than a third of the original 5-mile distance in one of New Delhi's most heavily guarded neighborhoods on Thursday.

"The route has been curtailed...We are meeting now to decide all the plans for the relay," Randhir Singh, Secretary-General of the Indian Olympic Association, told Reuters.

The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, and the Tibetan government-in-exile are based in northern India and the country has had dozens of anti-China protests since last month's deadly riots in Tibet and surrounding regions.

In one protest, Tibetan exiles scaled the walls of the Chinese embassy in New Delhi last month.

China reacted strongly, summoning the Indian envoy to Beijing to express its displeasure and urge New Delhi to ensure adequate security for the Olympic torch, which has been a magnet for protests across the world.

Protests planned
Tibetan leaders in India said they were preparing to protest in spite of the heavy security.

"We know about the security, but we must protest against what China is doing in Tibet," Tenzing Norsang, a Tibetan leader said.

See images of the life of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14 Dalai Lama and exiled spiritual leader of Tibet’s Buddhists.

"Our protest against the Olympic torch will continue and we will march holding our own torch demanding Tibet's independence."

Indian officials called a meeting to review security of the torch after China's foreign minister called his Indian counterpart this month seeking assurances.

Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia has refused to carry the Olympic torch in protest against China's response to the unrest in Tibet.

Pakistan changes venue
Meanwhile, Pakistan also changed the venue for its Olympic torch run for to security reasons, an official said on Tuesday. The torch will arrive in Islamabad on Wednesday on the first leg of its relay in Asia, as it makes its way to the Games in Beijing in August.

"As such there's no threat but, obviously, because of the overall security environment, we didn't want to take a chance," said Lieutenant-Colonel Baseer Haider, a spokesman for the Pakistan Olympic Association.

Pakistan has been hit by an unprecedented wave of suicide bomb attacks by militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban since an army assault on a radical mosque in Islamabad last July in which more than 100 people were killed.

The Olympic association had hoped to hold a torch run along Islamabad's main boulevard in front of parliament, but the event will now be held inside a nearby sports stadium.

The torch, touring the world ahead of the Olympic Games, has drawn protests over China's policies, in particular its crackdown last month on unrest in Tibet and human rights in general.

Chaos erupted in San Francisco, London and Paris, where protesters tried to snuff out the flame and organizers extinguished or hid the torch to keep it safe.

Pakistan is a close ally of China, which is a major arms supplier and investor.