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Japanese temple withdraws from torch relay

April 18, 2008

From CNN – Security concerns and sympathy toward Tibetans prompted a Buddhist temple in Nagano, Japan, to withdraw from participation in the Olympic torch relay next week, a temple official said on Friday.

The torch relay had been set to begin at Zenkoji Temple in Nagano, site of the 1998 Olympic Winter games — on April 26.

“We have to protect our heritage and visitors,” a temple official told reporters, citing security concerns and the “Tibet issue.”

Japan’s Kyodo news agency quoted the temple official as saying, “Indiscriminate killings were undertaken in Tibet. We were concerned about Buddhists in Tibet who rose up and a subsequent crackdown against them.”

The logos of the relay’s three corporate sponsors — Coca-Cola, Samsung and Lenovo — will also not appear on official vehicles escorting the torch through the city, the companies said.

A Coca-Cola official in Japan told CNN the decision was made because it was expected the heavy security would prevent many people from seeing the company’s brand on the vehicles.

While the torch relay protests have raised major public relations problems for the corporate sponsors, this would be the first city in which they chose to downplay their connection to the Olympic flame.

Li Ping, spokeswoman for the torch relay, told CNN that she believed the Beijing Olympics had widespread support.

“The majority of the people in the world… love the Olympics and they support the Olympic ideals. So they share the spirit with us, and they are in great support to the Chinese Olympic games, and they are in support of the torch relay,” she said.

Ping said the relay was “a great opportunity for all relay cities to promote their own culture, their people, their landmarks. It’s an opportunity for people to increase understanding of each other and to increase friendship.”

As for the protests, she said that “some people… use this occasion to promote their own political agenda.”

Earlier on Friday, the Olympic flame arrived in Thailand from the Indian capital of New Delhi, where extraordinary security measures kept thousands of anti-Chinese protesters mostly at bay during a shortened relay Thursday.

Thailand’s crown princess was scheduled to visit the flame Friday before the torch relay winds through Bangkok the following day.

Relay officials said they’ve mapped an alternate path that, if needed, would let the 80 torch-bearers bypass demonstrators along a six-mile (10 km) route that would take the flame by Bangkok’s Chinatown and near major landmarks.

Thai authorities may deport foreign activists coming to Bangkok to disrupt the torch relay, a national police spokesman.

Lt. Gen. Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit, the police spokesman, said Thailand was ready to revoke visas, prosecute and deport any foreign nationals planning illegal actions to protest China’s human rights record.

Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will preside over a welcoming ceremony for the flame Friday evening at the Bangkok headquarters of Kasikorn Bank.

The flame, burning in a special lamp, will spend its night in Bangkok in the Plaza Athene Hotel under the close watch of Beijing Olympics officials.

Thousands of protesters descended on New Delhi on Thursday as the torch visited the heart of the world’s largest Tibetan exile community.

Indian security forces were braced for trouble after the relatively calm leg on Wednesday in neighboring Pakistan, where the ceremony was held behind closed doors in a sports stadium.

Officials shortened the original 5.6 mile (9 km) torch route to 1.5 miles (2.3 km), and lined it with more than 15,000 security personnel for the 30-minute event.

Police sealed off roads, shuttered nearby shops, banned mobile phones in the area, and ordered windows and doors on buildings along the route closed. In order to avoid giving protesters a head start, Indian authorities did not disclose the relay route or the start time until 24 hours before the event.

Tsewang Rigzin, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, told CNN that at least 200 members of the pro-independence group and their supporters were arrested in various places in the capital.

More than 500 protesters were also arrested Thursday in Kathmandu, Nepal, in front of the Chinese Embassy.

Also that evening in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, a candlelight procession of Tibetans in yellow robes meandered through the streets to express solidarity with Tibetans in Lhasa, the capital of the Chinese autonomous region.

The unprecedented security measures incurred the wrath of opposition political parties.

Samajwadi Party leader Mohan Singh said the Olympic spirit was that of international brotherhood but the city had been converted into a “police camp,” the state-run Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Supporters of Tibet denounce the Chinese government’s stance toward Tibet. And many believe China should not have been awarded the honor of hosting the Olympic games, which begin August 8 in Beijing.

Earlier stops in London, Paris and San Francisco attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators, attacks on the torch and relay participants, and dozens of arrests.

Subsequent stops in Argentina, Tanzania and Oman were trouble-free. Security concerns prompted Pakistani officials to close the relay to the public and hold it at a stadium in front of invited guests.

The torch is making a voyage around the world before it will be used to light the flame in Beijing.

After leaving Bangkok, it will head south to Malaysia for a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur, then it goes to Jakarta in Indonesia.

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