Japanese Temple Sprayed With Graffiti After Withdrawal From Olympic Torch Relay

A centuries-old Buddhist temple in Japan was spray-painted with graffiti early Sunday, days after temple officials pulled out of the upcoming Olympic torch relay because they sympathize with Tibetan protesters.

The graffiti — consisting of white circular patterns and lines — was found Sunday morning in six spots in the main hall at Zenkoji Temple in the city of Nagano, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported.

Nagano police were investigating whether the vandalism was related to the decision to pull out of the Olympic torch relay.

A police spokesman said he couldn't provide further details. He refused to give his name because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

Zenkoji had been slated as the starting point for Japan's leg of the relay on April 26. Temple officials, however, withdrew on Friday citing security concerns and sympathy for Tibetan protesters facing a Chinese crackdown.

Since the torch relay started in Greece on March 24 it has been a magnet for critics of China's human rights record and its crackdown in Tibet on sometimes-violent demonstrations against Chinese rule. Protesters disrupted the torch's stops in London, Paris and San Francisco.

The grounds at Zenkoji, built in the 7th century, are open 24 hours a day.

The Olympic flame arrived in Malaysia on Sunday and was scheduled to head to Indonesia and Australia before Japan.

City organizers in Nagano, host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, were considering alternate sites for the torch relay start. They were expected to announce a decision Monday.

About 80 runners, including Olympic gold medal swimmer Kosuke Kitajima and gold medal female wrestler Saori Yoshida, are scheduled to carry the torch along Nagano's five-hour, 11.5-mile route.