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James Reynolds | 15:55 UK time, Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Urumqi leg of the Olympic torch relay was fascinating to watch - but not everyone in the city got to see it.

Former Chinese national champion boxer Abdul Xukur carries the Olympic Torch past a crowd in People's Square on June 17, 2008 in Urumqi, Xinjiang.People living next to the route of the torch had been told to stay in their homes, and to keep well away from their windows (a point reinforced to me when the hotel I was staying in left me a very polite letter telling me to make sure my window was closed between 7am and 2pm - the time of the torch relay.)

My colleagues and I were allowed onto the street to watch the relay (because we had torch relay press passes.) We saw sizeable - but very carefully chosen crowds on both sides of the road. Local businesses and government work units had been allocated sections of the relay - it was up to them to fill up these sections with loyal supporters. They did so.

I looked up at the buildings across the road. A handful of people peered out - breaking the rule about staying away from their windows. But most of the rest of the windows were empty - exactly as ordered.

The government's security measures worked. There were no disruptions to this leg of the relay. That should be a relief to officials in Urumqi. For months, China has warned of the threat to the Olympics posed by armed Uighur separatists (a reminder - the Uighurs are the largest single ethnic group in the Xinjiang region. Human rights groups say that the Uighurs - a Muslim people - are oppressed by the Chinese state.)

This evening, my colleagues and I flew into the city of Kashgar further west in the Xinjiang region. The next leg of the relay starts here on Wednesday morning. Kashgar has a large Uighur majority - and from what we can tell, it seems that the government doesn't want to take any chances here. Most shops and restaurants have already been shuttered. We've seen police officers in camouflage uniform and green helmets standing (or in some cases sitting) at 20 metre intervals along the route of the relay.

We had a quick look through the centre of town at about 8pm - in the blinding sunlight (quick digression - China has only one time zone. So the clocks in Kashgar are set to Beijing time, despite the fact that Kashgar is several thousand km west of China's capital. As a result, it's dazzlingly light here until incredibly late.)

A local man who spoke to one of my colleagues said that everyone had been ordered to stay indoors for the duration of the relay. "How can I be excited about the torch relay when I won't even be able to see it?" he asked.

The authorities are keen to keep an eye on the reporters who've come here to cover the relay. When we checked into our hotel, my colleague was asked to fill in an official form giving the names of the people we planned to interview here. We've also been told that we can't take bags or mobile phone cameras to the relay when it starts early in the morning at the Idkah mosque.

I'll let you know what we manage to see.


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