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Olympic torch arrives to China’s Sichuan province to inspire victims of earthquake

The Olympic torch completed its final homage to victims of China's massive earthquake Tuesday before returning to Beijing, but the route was changed for security reasons in a region where Tibetan protests erupted in March.

The torch was paraded through about eight miles (13 kilometers) of an industrial part of Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu, rather than a more historic section of the city that houses Tibetan communities.

The change was due to safety concerns, according to an official with the Chengdu Public Security Bureau who only gave his surname, Wang, as is common with Chinese officials.

"The city has some of the worst congestion in China. We were worried there would be traffic difficulties and also that the crowds would be too large," Wang said.

After deadly riots broke out in Tibet's capital in March and disruptions by pro-Tibet activists during the torch relay overseas, China was taking no chances with security.

Busloads of police officers as well as troops with riot shields and helmets lined the route. Security checkpoints were set up for spectators. Near Wuhouci temple in the older section of Chengdu, a road leading to a Tibetan area - including the office of Tibet's government - was heavily guarded by police armed with guns that fire tear gas.

The relay, which like all other stops in Sichuan began with a minute of silence to honor the quake victims, ended without incident. Crowds selected by the local government cheered with gusto and waved Chinese flags and Olympic banners.

Sichuan, where a powerful magnitude-7.9 quake flattened towns in May, was the last stop for the Olympic flame before it heads to Beijing for Friday's opening ceremony. The segment had originally been scheduled for mid-June but was postponed to support disaster-relief efforts.

More than 69,000 people were killed and some 5 million were left homeless in the disaster.

On Monday, in a fanfare-filled ceremony that included dancers and bursts of confetti, the Olympic torch was paraded around a stadium that only weeks ago was filled with earthquake survivors.

The sweltering afternoon heat did not faze some 3,000 hand-picked spectators whose singing and cheering filled Jiuzhou Stadium in Mianyang, the third stop for the flame in Sichuan.

Many said they hoped the torch's journey through the quake zone would give people courage.

"It's a way to encourage the victims to rebuild. The torch is a symbol of strength and will encourage them to carry on the tenacious struggle," said Hu Lu, 27, a businesswoman and one of the 88 torchbearers.