A major Japanese Buddhist temple withdrew Friday from a plan to host the Beijing Olympics torch relay, citing safety concerns and sympathy among its monks and worshippers for pro-Tibet protesters.
Zenkoji Temple has refused to serve as the starting point for the April 26 relay, said Kunihiko Shinohara, secretary-general of the Nagano city organizing committee for the event. The relay has drawn protests around the world against China’s crackdown on Tibetan demonstrators.
“We respect the temple’s decision. This means the starting point will change,” he said after he met with Zenkoji monks.
Another city official, Koichi Yajima, said the monks were concerned about the safety of the temple and its worshippers should the relay spark the angry demonstrations it has brought in Europe and the United States.
An official at the temple’s secretariat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the temple and its worshippers were also concerned about the treatment of fellow Buddhists in Tibet.
'Words of concern'
“There have been a lot of talk about the Tibet issue and the public opinion is heightening,” she said. “We are Buddhists just like them. We hear words of concern from many people every day.”
The government in Tokyo said it planned to provide adequate security for the relay.
“The relay went smoothly in some spots and got disrupted in other places overseas. We want to prevent disruptions with thorough security,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said.
The torch relay was to start from the famous temple, taking runners through the city for 11.5 miles.
Nagano, the host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, has already canceled a post-relay event because of security concerns.
Since its start March 24 in Greece, the torch relay has been a magnet for critics of China’s policies in Tibet. Protesters disrupted stops in London, Paris and San Francisco, helping make the games among the most contentious in years.
Meanwhile, the Olympic flame arrived in Thailand under tight security on Friday and was quickly taken to a luxury hotel.
Thousands of police and military have been ordered to secure Saturday's torch relay in Bangkok to prevent disruptions from protesters.
A force of 15,000 police deployed to protect the torch's run through the Indian capital of New Delhi on Thursday, preventing all but a few hundred select guests from glimpsing the flame.
Some Tibetans staged demonstrations across the country — home to the largest community of Tibetan exiles. But the protesters came nowhere near the torch.
'People should be proud'
On Friday, Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej pledged "the government's full attention" for the relay.
"Why would anyone protest in Thailand? Why don't they protest in China?" Samak told reporters. "This is a good thing for Thailand. Thai people should be proud."
Up to 2,000 police will guard Saturday's relay, a 6-mile run starting in Bangkok's Chinatown and ending at the Royal Plaza, a large square in the historic section of the city.
The route could be changed and shortened at the last minute if protesters try to disrupt the relay, said Gen. Yuttasak Sasiprapha, president of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand.
"Supporters of the Tibetan cause have the right to express their views but not to thwart the relay. We will not tolerate that," Yuttasak said.
The torch is scheduled to leave Thailand for Malaysia on Saturday night.