Olympic torch arrives in Nagano

Other News Materials 25 April 2008 15:08 (UTC +04:00)

The Beijing Olympics torch flame safely arrived in the Japanese host city of Nagano Friday after completing a relay in Australia, dpa reported.

Upon receiving a welcome applaud and cheers at the Haneda airport, the flame, stored in a lantern, was transported in a bus and arrived at a hotel in the central Japanese city of Nagano with about 130 Chinese Olympic committee members.

Non-violent protests were already witnessed when some Japanese demonstrators waved Tibetan national flags to the Chinese staff members at a stopover on a freeway to Nagano city.

On Saturday, 80 runners are expected to carry the flame through an 18.7-kilometre route in the city that hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Pro-Tibet activists and other groups are planning demonstrations while around 2,000 Chinese students and other members of Chinese community in Japan are expected in Nagano.

For the safety and security of the sacred flame, the Nagano torch relay committee decided on Wednesday to ban the general public from the torch-lighting and closing ceremonies.

The city has already seen an influx of pro-Tibet protestors, righ-wing activists and Chinese exchange students to observe the flame as it passes through town.

Reporters Without Borders Secretary General Robert Menard was expected to arrive in Japan Friday afternoon for a peaceful protest against China's crackdown on Tibetan people.

The Buddhist Zenkoji Temple, Nagano city's main landmark, refused last week to host Saturday's opening ceremony as its monks expressed sympathy for and solidarity with Tibet's monks.

The temple instead plans to hold a memorial service Saturday to mourn the victims of last month's anti-China unrest in Tibet.

Following the protests in Paris, London and San Francisco, Japanese police and riot police have increased security for the torch relay, with more than 3,000 officers expected on the streets to protect the flame.

More than 100 police officers and Olympic committee members from China are to accompany the torch during the three-hour run, breaking the sight lines of the roadside spectators in Nagano.

Two Chinese guards will also accompany the torch but Japan has made clear that the officers will not involve themselves in protecting the torch as happened in London.

"Beijing has promised our national police that the two runners won't use force," explained Shinya Izumi, head of Japan's Commission for Public Security.

The Japanese Olympic Committees (JOC) has accepted that the Chinese officers' experience in accompanying the torch is necessary to ensure the relay passes off without incident.

The flame is to be transported to Seoul after Nagano.

Its passage around the globe has been met at times with disruptions by protestors objecting to China's actions in suppressing demonstrations in Tibet last month.