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Security, protesters greet Olympic torch in Japan

Officials call for calm at site of '98 Games

A pro-Tibet demonstrator shouted during a march in Nagano, Japan, yesterday. The Olympic flame will arrive on Chinese soil on May 2 in Hong Kong, for a long journey around the country. A pro-Tibet demonstrator shouted during a march in Nagano, Japan, yesterday. The Olympic flame will arrive on Chinese soil on May 2 in Hong Kong, for a long journey around the country. (TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Eric Talmadge
Associated Press / April 26, 2008

NAGANO, Japan - China's Olympic torch relay ignited more protests on its troubled world tour today, sparking demonstrations across this Japanese city despite the mobilization of thousands of riot police.

In Nagano, a man charged out of the crowd as the relay began, in an apparent attempt to grab the torch. But a group of police quickly pounced on him, and he was taken into custody.

The relay in the mountain city paused briefly, but then continued amid heavy security. Police helicopters buzzed overhead during the relay, and demonstrators held a pro-Tibet prayer vigil.

Police guards in track suits surrounded the first runner - the manager of Japan's national baseball team - and another 100 uniformed riot police trotted alongside six patrol cars and two motorcycles. They were backed up by thousands of other police.

Earlier, dozens of demonstrators waving Tibetan flags protested as the flame arrived, and one self-proclaimed monk was arrested near the starting point of today's relay. Reports said the man had a knife and was carrying a protest statement.

Japanese officials said the security was unavoidable, and called for calm. But the high-profile police presence has dissipated any festive mood in Nagano, which hosted the 1998 Winter Games.

The starting point - a last-minute substitution after a Buddhist temple pulled out - was closed to the public, as were all rest stops along the way.

The relay, making its 16th international stop, has been disrupted by protests or conducted under extremely heavy security at many sites since it left Greece.

The protests are largely in response to China's crackdown last month on protests in Tibet, which it has governed since the 1950s, and to concerns over human rights issues in China.

The international route ends next week, with stops in South Korea tomorrow, North Korea on Monday, and Vietnam on Tuesday. The flame will arrive on Chinese soil on May 2 in Hong Kong, for a long journey around the country before the Aug. 8 start of the games.

Japan has taken severe measures to ensure its 11.6-mile relay goes smoothly.

But groups including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders planned to protest peacefully throughout the day. About 2,000 Chinese exchange students, meanwhile, swarmed Nagano to show their support.

Marchers yelling "Free Tibet" and waving Tibetan flags crowded the streets near the route. One person was hurt in a scuffle between Chinese and pro-Tibetan supporters.

Coinciding with the start of the relay, which began under a light rain, a prayer vigil was held at the largest Buddhist temple in Nagano, Zenkoji. The 1,400-year-old temple, which was the showcase of the 1998 Olympics, last week declined to host the start of the relay, citing security concerns and sympathy among monks and worshippers for their religious brethren in Tibet.

After arriving in Nagano by bus early yesterday, the flame was spirited away to a hotel and put under heavy security. About 3,000 police have been mobilized.

The problems with the torch relay and reports of foiled terrorist plots in China have raised larger concerns of violence during the Beijing Games, the head of Interpol said yesterday. Ronald Noble told an international security conference that potential attacks could involve efforts to block transportation routes, interfere with competitions, assault athletes, or destroy property.

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