TOKYO – 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 Tibetan protesters facing a Chinese crackdown.
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.
"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 18.5 kilometers (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.
The Olympic flame, which arrived in Thailand on Friday under tight security, is to arrive in Japan from Australia and then travel to Seoul, South Korea.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
APTV 04-18-08 0208EDT