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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Temple pulls out of torch relay

April 20, 2008

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN (Japan)
April 19, 2008

NAGANO--Zenkoji temple officials Friday removed the site as the starting
point for the Olympic torch relay in Japan, a change that police say
could cause huge headaches from a security standpoint.

Temple officials, citing concerns about possible damage to its main
hall, a national treasure, from protesters, as well as China's actions
in Tibet, asked the torch relay organizing committee Friday to rethink
the use of the site.

Zenkoji, which is believed to date back 1,400 years, is a symbol of Nagano.

Shinsho Wakaomi of the temple's secretariat said they had no other
choice to ensure the safety of the temple's cultural assets and followers.

"As Buddhists, we are also gravely concerned that Chinese authorities
are suppressing the human rights of Tibetans," he said at a news conference.

Temple officials also said they received more than 100 telephone calls a
day, "99 percent" of them from people who wanted the temple out of the
torch relay.

Kunihiko Shinohara, secretary-general of the organizing committee,
expressed "grave shock" after the joint news conference.

"If it is the consensus of Zenkoji priests, we have no choice but to
accept it," he said. "We need to modify the route but will make the
least possible changes (to avoid confusion)."

The organizers said they would find a new starting point for the Olympic
torch relay event scheduled for April 26 by Wednesday.

Nagano Mayor Shoichi Washizawa said Friday the new starting point will
be selected from four options, but he did not go into details.

Nagano prefectural police officials have said such a change would lead
to a security nightmare.

"The site where the starting ceremony is held is the most important from
a security standpoint because that is where the most people will
gather," a senior police official said. "To change the site now would
pose a major problem."

Protesters have disrupted the torch relay in Athens, London, Paris and
San Francisco. The problems overseas have prompted the Nagano
prefectural police to increase the number of officers assigned to the
event to 1,500, or nearly half of all officers in the prefecture.

The initial plan was to dispatch 500 officers to control traffic and
prevent confusion among the crowds.

Tokyo's Metropolitan Police Department will send more than 200 officers,
while additional backups from nearby prefectures will also provide security.

But Japanese government officials said they would not allow Chinese
security agents to escort the torchbearers during the relay in Nagano.

Instead, the runners will be guarded by dozens of Japanese police
officers, while 3,000 police will guard the route throughout the event,
the National Police Agency said.

Dozens of Chinese men in bright blue tracksuits have been escorting and
guarding the torchbearers during the relays overseas.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Thursday that Beijing
has yet to officially consult with Tokyo on whether it wants to dispatch
Chinese police agents to guard the runners.

"Even if there is such a request, Japan is a country strictly ruled by
law, and its security condition is so stable that it does not need to
depend on assistance from foreign law-enforcement authorities," he said.

Police officers will be tasked to block anybody who attempts to enter
the course. Takashi Ishii, the prefectural police chief, will be
directly in charge of the operation.

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola (Japan) Co. and two other sponsors of the Olympic
torch relay have decided not to use advertisement vehicles for the
event, citing tight security in Nagano.

The problems surrounding the event have taken their toll.

On Thursday, Mayor Washizawa said the current situation is not what the
city had expected.

In a speech to representatives of local business groups, Washizawa said
he was very grateful when Nagano was named the site of the event in
spring last year, but the turmoil surrounding the relay has been "way
beyond imagination."

Citing his experience of carrying the torch for the 1998 Nagano Winter
Olympics, the mayor said growing tensions over the relay are regrettable.

"Honestly speaking, the current state is a great nuisance," he
said.(IHT/Asahi: April 19,2008)
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