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China seeks to allay Olympics security fears

Latest update : 2008-03-10

Chinese authorities maintain that security will not be a problem at the 2008 summer games in Beijing following the weekend's foiled terror plots, though activists expressed scepticism.

China insisted on Monday it will be able to hold a safe Summer Olympics after officials said they had foiled two terrorist plots, while activists expressed scepticism about the extent of any threat.

Wang Lequan, Communist Party boss in Xinjiang, where the largely Muslim, Uighur minority has agitated for greater autonomy and rights, told reporters police had shot dead two members of a "terrorist gang" in a January raid and rounded up 15 others whose aim was to disrupt the Games.

Other officials from the far-northwestern region said a passenger jet originating in Xinjiang was forced to halt on Friday after the discovery of what the state-run Xinhua news agency called a "planned terrorist attack".

"From the very beginning we have attached great importance to Olympic security," said Sun Weide, a spokesman for Beijing's Olympic Organising Committee. "We are confident that we will be able to have a safe Olympic Games."

Rights groups have accused the Chinese government of exaggerating the threat of violence in Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia, in the interests of exerting greater control in the area where China is trying to curb separatist sentiment.

Rebiya Kadeer, jailed for more than five years for championing the rights of Uighurs before she was sent into exile in the United States, said she did not believe the government's version of the alleged militant activities in Xinjiang.

"This is something they have fabricated themselves, it's an incident they've arranged," she told Reuters by telephone from her home in Washington D.C.

"Right now, Uighur people don't have the ability to do that. Moreover, they don't have any plans to do so," Kadeer said of the plane incident.

The China Southern flight was en route from Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, to Beijing on Friday when it made an emergency landing in Lanzhou after the crew discovered what one source told Reuters was inflammable material in the toilet.

None of the passengers or crew were harmed, according to the Xinjiang government, and the plane finally arrived in Beijing on Saturday.

A source told Reuters that police had detained two people from the flight, but state media and the government have given no details about the suspects or what their aim might have been.

Travellers flying through Beijing and Shanghai at the weekend reported no heightened security measures.

Domestic media also gave little coverage to the event. The Beijing News and the People's Daily carried nothing about the incident. The English-language China Daily reported it on the front page, but not as its lead story.

Date created : 2008-03-10