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Lhasa's tightly controlled relay

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James Reynolds | 06:40 UK time, Saturday, 21 June 2008

Done. The Olympic torch relay has come and gone from Lhasa - the entire event took just two hours.

I'm with a group of journalists invited in by the Chinese government to cover the relay. Tibet has been sealed off to foreigners since the protests here in March - but the government has made an exception for the torch relay.Cheering students

Here's how our day went...

Early in the morning we were driven in convoy from our hotel to the Norbulinka Palace - the starting point for the relay. We drove along empty streets past perhaps half a dozen security checkpoints.

Ordinary people had been told to stay at home (you could only come out and cheer if you'd been given a special pass).

The relay came here just three months after the dramatic protests in this city. Clearly, the government didn't want to risk losing control for a second time in a single year.

We were all escorted to the Norbulinka Palace to wait for the opening ceremony to begin. Students had been drafted in as cheerleaders. Some were Tibetan - but we overheard many chatting amongst themselves in Chinese.

Just after 9am the torch ceremony got under way. I have covered plenty of these in the last week and they follow a set pattern - a speech, a moment of silence for the victims of last month's earthquake in Sichuan, the torch is handed to the first runner, he heads off down a red carpet, the students cheer.

After the torch left our sight, we had to wait for a little bit - we weren't given the option of following the torch as it went through Lhasa. A line of soldiers stopped us from wandering about in the middle of the (entirely empty) streets - several of them put their hands in front of our cameras to stop us from filming.

Our next and final stop was the Potala Palace, the breathtaking building that dominates Lhasa - the ancient home of the Dalai Lama. We drove past more empty streets, shuttered shops, and endless numbers of soldiers (I gave up trying to count them).

Once we got to the square opposite the Potala, there was a bit of time to spare. Teams of carefully chosen cheerleaders - each with a special pass - were sitting down on the ground. A little late, Tibet's senior officials entered the square and headed to a specially built podium, walking slowly and acknowledging the polite applause of other officials.

A bit before 11am, the final runner entered the square carrying the torch. The crowd stayed quiet until a speaker asked everyone to cheer. They did so - but the cheers were not overwhelming (by comparison, the cheering at the Hong Kong torch relay in May was almost deafening).

An official gave a speech. Then, the Olympic flame was carefully taken away. That was it. At around 11am it was all over.

We were driven straight back to our hotel.


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