The Olympic flame has reached China’s Wild West, the restive Muslim province of Xinjiang. Security was tight as Beijing ensured no repetition of the protests seen during the flame’s international stop-overs, and ahead of its arrival in Tibet at the weekend. Xinjiang is far from Beijing, close to the border with Pakistan. It is the heart of Chinese Islam, but its oil reserves make it vital to the national economy.
Kashgar, once an important stop on the Silk Road, is on high alert before the flame’s arrival tomorrow. Shops are closed, people banned from watching from their balconies. Beijing is nervous, and claims to have foiled two Xinjiang terror plots to attack the Olympics. Local Uighurs are blamed for a series of violent attacks in the name of secession, and an independent state called East Turkestan.
Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer said: “They sent millions of Han Chinese into our region, and took the land away from the Uighur people. They took our jobs and our heritage.”
Away from prying eyes, there are few signs that this is Olympic year. Banners on the main streets welcome the torch in English and Chinese, but not in the local Uighur language. Some people say Beijing is mad to bring the torch here. It is their Games, they say, not ours.