BEIJING (Reuters) - China, whose Beijing Olympic torch relay was dogged by protest overseas, on Wednesday cancelled the international leg of the Paralympic torch relay, giving the devastating Sichuan earthquake as the reason.
The torch had been scheduled to visit Olympic host cities of London, Vancouver and Sochi as well as Hong Kong before the Sept 6-17 Paralympics but will now be restricted to mainland China.
The Olympic torch relay became the focus of protest against China’s crackdown on rioting in Tibet on its journey around the world, provoking a backlash of nationalism at home.
The head of the Paralympic department at the Beijing organisers (BOCOG), however, said the changes were being made mainly because of the May 12 earthquake, which killed nearly 70,000 people.
“The downsizing applies to both the Olympics and Paralympics,” Zhang Qiuping said.
“The main reason is the devastating earthquake in Sichuan. We want to focus on the relief effort and reconstruction as well as the preparation work for the Games.”
Four cities — Chengdu, Chongqing, Urumqi and Tianjin — have also been withdrawn from the original 16-stop schedule for the domestic relay.
Chengdu and Chongqing were affected by the earthquake, while Urumqi in the restive far-Western region of Xinjiang hosted the Olympic torch under tight security last week.