China Begins Olympic Torch Relay in Xinjiang བོད་སྐད།

China has begun the Xinjiang leg of its Olympic torch relay.

Police largely shut down the capital of Urumqi Tuesday, and the cheering crowd in the largely Muslim, majority ethnic Uighur region was overwhelmingly Han Chinese.

Earlier, Chinese authorities warned people to stay at home and watch the 12-kilometer event on television.

Xinjiang has eight million ethnic Uighurs, most of whom are Muslims. The Chinese government has cracked down on separatist activity in the area, and accused Uighur activists of trying to make Xinjiang an independent state.

But Uighur exiles say China is using the Olympics as an excuse to continue a crackdown on their people.

After parading through Urumqi today, the Olympic torch relay will head to Kashgar, another city in Xinjiang, on Wednesday.

China says it has broken up at least two Xinjiang-based terror plots this year. One involved an attempt to blow up an aircraft flying to Beijing; another to kidnap foreigners and carry out suicide attacks during the Olympics.

On Monday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned China's planned Olympic torch relay in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, scheduled for Saturday.

The group released a statement criticizing the Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee for the Lhasa relay.

The group's Asia advocacy director (Sophie Richardson) said it is unconscionable and reckless to use the city for such propaganda purposes, while it remains otherwise closed.

The Chinese government has closed Lhasa to foreign observers and international journalists since a series of protests in March.