China has ramped up security in Beijing ahead of the Olympics following an attack on a Kashgar police station in restive Xinjiang province, in which 16 policemen were killed.
An official in Xinjiang said 18 foreign terrorists have been arrested after the deadly assault.
The security clampdown is translating into further breaches of China’s promises to ensure press freedom for the Games, which begin on Friday.
Two Japanese journalists in Kashgar to report on the attack were beaten by police, forcing an apology.
Beijing authorities reversed earlier media freedom pledges — foreign reporters will now have to apply 24 hours in advance to do interviews in the city’s Tiananmen Square, site of the massacre of pro-democracy activists in 1989.
It was not clear how this would affect broadcasters, who have paid millions of dollars for the right to broadcast from the square.
Meanwhile, after a global journey dogged by international protests over China’s crackdown in Tibet, the Olympic torch made a poignant visit to the Sichuan earthquake zone, shortly before the region was hit by a 6.0 magnitude aftershock Tuesday.
Runners carried the torch through eight miles of an industrial part of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, but avoided one of the city’s older areas, which historically housed Tibetan communities.
Sichuan, which was devastated by a 7.9-magnitude quake in May, was the last stop for the Olympic flame. The Sichuan leg originally had been scheduled for mid-June but was postponed to support disaster-relief efforts. More than 69,000 people are confirmed dead and some 5 million were left homeless in the earthquake.
Busloads of police officers and troops with riot shields and helmets lined the route as it passed through Chengdu. Security checkpoints were set up for spectators. The torch passed through some of the worst affected areas, including football stadiums used to house survivors in the quake’s immediate aftermath.
As the torch arrived in Beijing hours later, Chinese Olympics chiefs insisted the country was safe for athletes and spectators.
The torch will make various journeys around the city before traveling to the Bird’s Nest stadium Friday night to light the Olympic cauldron in the Opening Ceremony.
“I am convinced the Games will be a great success and will be well organized. These Games will leave a fantastic legacy for China,” said IOC president Jacques Rogge, who insisted the committee would always retain its tradition of lighting the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia and starting the torch relay in Greece.
However, he said the IOC might consider limiting the torch relay to domestic routes within the Olympic host countries.
China’s relay was far and away the longest ever.
In March and April, the relay was disrupted by anti-China protests in London, Paris and other cities, and the IOC has said it was mulling the issue about whether to eliminate international relays in the future.
China’s triumphant global torch relay has left a bitter taste with many, particularly as it followed hard on the heels of footage of Chinese armed police taking on monks in Lhasa and other Tibetan sites.
A senior IOC member said the Beijing Olympics escaped political boycotts only due to the goodwill following May’s devastating earthquake.
“Public opinion and political opinion was moving toward a boycott of the Games, and it was only the earthquake tragedy that diverted attention from what could otherwise have been something very, very serious,” said Canadian member Dick Pound during the IOC’s general assembly Tuesday.