Olympics kick off under tight security

Aug. 08, 2008, 8:17 p.m. (ET)

YINING, China (AP) Security forces squeezed their grip on China a notch tighter for the start of the Olympics, edging up restrictions in the capital and imposing much tougher ones in a restive Muslim area in the country's far west.

The Beijing Games' glittering curtain raiser went off without any signs of trouble Friday, a day after an Islamic group seeking independence for Xinjiang province threatened to attack buses, trains and planes during the two-week competition.

In Beijing, authorities closed streets and iconic Tiananmen Square for most of the day as President Hu Jintao hosted dozens of world leaders at a luncheon in the adjacent Great Hall of the People. Motorcades later sped the dignitaries, including U.S. President George W. Bush, to the main Olympic stadium for the evening ceremony.

The square reopened, and thousands flooded in to watch a fireworks show after the ceremony, hemmed into designated areas by armed police. Hundreds of celebrating Chinese who gathered outside the stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, were also ringed by police.

Normally bustling streets in the capital fell unusually quiet after city officials asked people to keep to organized sites with giant television screens or stay home to watch the ceremony.

A 100,000-strong contingent of police and special forces are safeguarding Olympics venues, while hundreds of thousands of Beijing residents have formed voluntary security patrols.

The mood was tenser on the other side of the country, near China's border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, where anti-terrorism police patrolled towns in Xinjiang province and authorities shut down a bustling bazaar in the region's main city for security reasons.

Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur minority that has long had difficult relations with the central government, has been on edge since a brazen attack Monday by two men who used a truck, bombs and knives to kill 16 border policemen and wound another 16.

On Thursday, a videotape purportedly made by the Turkistan Islamic Party, a militant group seeking independence for Xinjiang, was released with threats of attacks during the Olympics. The group is believed to be based across the border in Pakistan, where security experts say core members have received training from al-Qaida.

In Yining, the site of a major protest in 1997 by Uighurs demanding Xinjiang independence, streets were eerily empty and most shops were closed during the opening ceremony. The few people on the sidewalks were youths and adult men wearing red arm bands that said "safety inspection personnel." Some held black rubber riot clubs.


Associated Press writers Henry Sanderson and Cara Anna in Beijing contributed to this report.