The blue tracksuit-clad Chinese security guards who have followed the Olympic torch around the world will not be welcome in Japan when the flame arrives within days.
Japanese police formally turned down Chinese Olympics organizers’ proposal for about seven security officials to escort the torch on April 26 through the city of Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported Saturday.
Police will let two non-security Chinese officials run beside the torch and rekindle it if it blows out, however, Kyodo said.
Torch runners in other countries have complained that the Chinese “men in blue” tightly surrounded them and acted aggressively, shouting orders at them and snatching a Tibetan flag headband from a runner in Paris.
China’s recent crackdown on riots and protests against Chinese rule in Tibet have become a contentious issue surrounding the Beijing Olympics.
Since the relay started in Greece on March 24 it has been a magnet for critics of China’s Tibet policies. Protesters disrupted stops in London, Paris and San Francisco.
On Friday Japan’s well-known Zenkokuji Temple withdrew its plan to be the starting point for the torch relay, citing safety issues and support for fellow monks in Tibet.
City officials have been considering alternate starting points. They were unavailable for comment Saturday.
The Olympic flame arrived Friday in Thailand under tight security and was scheduled to travel to Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia before Japan.
The Chinese guards protecting the torch in other cities were picked from special police units known for skills in martial arts, marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat according to British-based Web site sinodefence.com, which specializes in Chinese military affairs.
Japan does not need to rely on other countries for security, chief government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura said at a recent news conference.
Media have reported that more than 3,000 Japanese police and security personnel will be on hand for the run. Nagano prefectural police said Saturday they were unable to comment on torch relay security.
In Beijing, the Olympics organizers could not immediately be reached.
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, 11.5-mile route.