(dpa) - A Buddhist temple in the central Japanese city of Nagano withdrew Friday as the starting venue of the Japanese leg of the Olympic torch relay in protest against China's suppression of the Tibetan people, a temple spokeswoman said.
Zenkoji Temple, the city's main landmark, had been slated to also host an opening ceremony April 26 for the Beijing Olympic torch relay.
The city government on Friday accepted the monks' wish to pull out. Major changes were now expected to be made to the 18.5-kilometre run in Japan, where 80 athletes were to run every 200- to 300-metre leg.
"(The Chinese government) is suppressing Tibet's religious leaders who stood up (to protest China's control over Tibet). We came to this decision as a Buddhist temple," Shinsho Wakaomi of the Zenkoji Temple said at a press conference.
Another monk was quoted by Jiji Press as saying, "We have the strong feeling that we are the same Buddhists as the Tibetan people."
Accepting the temple's official decision, the city decided to "respect the temple's intentions," the city's torch relay committee chairman Kunihiko Shinohara said.
The temple spokeswoman said safety concerns were also part of the temple's decision to pull out of the relay.
Nagano, which hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics, earlier had cancelled an Olympic-related event to be held next week mainly to strengthen security and management of the torch run.
The event at a park was to feature photo sessions with the Olympic torch, music performances and sales of Olympic-related goods.
The organizers' decision to cancel the event followed demonstrations and protests during the torch run in London, Paris, San Francisco and New Dehli.
While Nagano city officials expressed surprise at the decision and expected sleepless nights in preparing for the relay, the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) said the changes would not affect the event as a whole.
"We can only accept the temple's decision. The city committee had selected other prospects for torch-relay events, and changes would not affect the run itself," JOC Chairman Tsunekazu Takeda said.