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Tokyo temple vandalized after halting Olympic plan

April 20, 2008

From Associated Press – A major Buddhist temple in Japan was vandalized early Sunday, days after temple officials halted plans to host the upcoming Olympic torch relay because of sympathies with Tibetan protesters, police said.

Spray-painted graffiti — consisting of white circular patterns and lines — was found Sunday morning in six spots in the main hall at Zenkoji Temple, a national treasure in the city of Nagano, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported.

Nagano police were investigating the incident as property destruction and whether it was related to the decision to pull out of the Olympic torch relay.

A police spokesman said he could not provide further details. He refused to give his name because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

Zenkoji had been slated to be the starting point for Japan’s leg of the Olympic torch relay on April 26. Temple officials, however, withdrew on Friday, citing security concerns and sympathy for Tibetan protesters facing a Chinese crackdown.

“Zenkoji is a Buddhist temple. Naturally, we are concerned about Tibet,” Zenkoji official Shinsho Wakaomi said at a televised news conference Friday.

“The principle of the Olympic charter is to overcome the differences of race, religion, gender and ideology, but the current situation has raised a question about it,” he said.

Since the torch relay started in Greece on March 24, it has been a magnet for critics of China’s human rights record and its crackdown in Tibet on sometimes-violent demonstrations against Chinese rule. Protesters disrupted the torch’s stops in London, Paris and San Francisco.

The Olympic flame arrived Sunday in Malaysia and was scheduled to head to Indonesia and Australia before Japan.

The grounds at Zenkoji, built in the 7th century, are open 24 hours a day. A monk patrolling the area around 11 p.m. Saturday did not see any graffiti at the time, Kyodo news agency reported.

City officials in Nagano, host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, are still considering alternate sites for the torch relay start.

About 80 runners, including Olympic gold medal swimmer Kosuke Kitajima and gold medal female wrestler Saori Yoshida, are scheduled to carry the torch along Nagano’s five-hour, 11.5-mile route.

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