Japan chooses new Olympic torch relay route


Japanese officials chose a new starting point for the upcoming Olympic torch relay Monday after a temple pulled out over security concerns and sympathy for Tibetan protesters, officials said.

Nagano city officials will now start the April 26 leg of the relay, which has been dogged by anti-China protests as it has worked its way around the world, at a city-owned parking lot, said Yuya Kobayashi at the city planning committee for the relay.

The new site is part of a government district about 800 metres (0.5 mile) southwest of the initial site and would not affect the distance of the relay or security planning, Kobayashi said.

“We were pressed for time but were able to find an alternative site nearby,” he said. “Fortunately, we hardly have to change our initial plans.”

On Friday, Buddhist monks at the centuries-old Zenkoji temple refused to host the start of the relay. Vandals over the weekend spray painted the temple with white paint, though officials would not say whether the two events were related.

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.

In Malaysia on Monday, a thousand police were ready to guard the relay Monday against protests. A Buddhist group held special prayers at a Kuala Lumpur temple for a trouble-free torch run and a peaceful Olympics in August.

In Japan, about 80 runners, including Olympic gold medal swimmer Kosuke Kitajima and gold medal female wrestler Saori Yoshida, were scheduled to carry the torch along Nagano’s five-hour, 18.5-kilometre (11.5-mile) route. (AP)