NAGANO — Zenkoji, the city of Nagano’s main temple, declined Friday to serve as the starting point of the Japan leg of the torch relay for the Beijing Olympics, citing safety concerns and the crackdown on Buddhists in Tibet.
Zenkoji Temple’s decision will force organizers to alter the route with just eight days to go before the relay, which has been marred by protests in other parts of the world.
“Indiscriminate killings were undertaken in Tibet,” Shinsho Wakaomi, a Zenkoji official, told reporters at City Hall. “We were concerned about the crackdown on Buddhists in Tibet who rose up.”
Wakaomi said the temple, which played a role in opening the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics by ringing its bell, received more than 100 calls about the torch relay, including protests over its earlier plan to use its premises for the starting ceremony.
He also cited as reasons for the refusal the protection of cultural assets and safety of worshippers.
The municipal Olympic planning committee has accepted Zenkoji Temple’s decision. The city has picked four alternative candidate sites for the starting point, Nagano Mayor Shoichi Washizawa said.
“We’d like to decide on the starting point as soon as possible,” Washizawa told a news conference Friday afternoon. In Tokyo, the government 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.
Later in the day, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda urged Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who is visiting Japan, to make further efforts to resolve the Tibet issue.
Fukuda said Yang told him China wants to quickly resolve issues related to Tibet.
Commenting on Zenkoji’s decision, Fukuda said it is regrettable because the torch relay “should have been something for everyone to enjoy.”
Under the original plan, events including the torch lighting ceremony were to have taken place at a site set up in the temple’s compound from 8 a.m. on April 26.
The torch run was to start from Zenkoji Temple at 8:30 a.m., covering 18.5 km.