The controversial Tibetan leg of the Olympic torch relay has been cut to just one day because of the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province, a Beijing Olympics official said Sunday.
The torch’s stop in Tibet — originally set for three days — has been criticized by Tibet activist groups who see it as an attempt by Beijing to symbolize its control over Tibet. China says it has ruled Tibet for centuries, although many Tibetans say their homeland was essentially independent for much of that time.
The cut to one day came after the relay was stopped for three days last week as part of a national period of mourning declared by the government to honor the victims of the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province that left nearly 63,000 people dead and almost 24,000 others missing.
The announcement also came two months after a violent uprising in ethnic Tibetan areas throughout China led to a security clampdown in the region. China has said life is returning to normal, and monasteries are reopening in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa. But foreigners are still banned and until recently Chinese were advised to stay away.
“All I can be sure of is that the Lhasa relay has been shortened to one day,” said Li Lizhi of the Beijing Olympic torch relay center.
“It’s probably either on June 18 or June 19, as is tentatively set now. But it is still open to future adjustment,” she said.
Olympic organizers announced days ago that the Sichuan leg of the relay had been shifted from mid-June to early August because of the quake. The leg now will run from Aug. 3 to Aug. 5 instead of June 15 to June 18.
It was not clear if the torch relay would still go through Mianyang, one of the hardest-hit areas, as planned. The Beijing games start Aug. 8.
“It is too early to tell,” said Zhang Liang, who is also with the torch relay center. “Every city has been preparing for it very hard and we will make the final decision based on how well each place recovers.”
So far the torch has had a smooth relay in mainland China, uninterrupted by the protests over Tibet and human rights that dogged parts of its international tour.
Earlier this month, Chinese mountaineers raised the Olympic torch at the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, producing the triumphant image that China has longed for in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.
The Everest torch was separate from the main Olympic flame, which is on a three-month tour of China after a one-month trip around the world.
Activists upset with Chinese government policies, especially pro-Tibet independence groups, used that trip around the world to stage protests to highlight their causes.