By Patrice Novotny, AFP
Apr 22, 2008
TOKYO - Japan will allow pro-Tibet protests when the Olympic torch arrives this weekend, marking a change from recent legs of the relay, but will limit the rallies’ size, officials and activists said today.
Demonstrators plan a ceremony at a famed Buddhist temple, which backed out of plans to be the starting point for Saturday’s relay, to mourn victims of China’s recent crackdown in Tibet.
"Protesting doesn’t pose any particular problem," Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura told reporters.
He warned, however, that police would intervene if violence broke out at the relay in Nagano, a central mountain town that hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Akemi Takahashi, a member of Students for a Free Tibet Japan, said Nagano police had told the group that it would only allow rallies of "around five people" near the torch.Police told demonstrators that areas near the relay route "will be occupied by activities of the IOC" (International Olympic Committee), she told AFP. "We have the right to make big demonstrations, but not close to the relay route," she said.
Kyodo News, quoting local officials, said that hotels in Nagano have also been asked to keep a close eye on the identification of foreign guests.The latest relay legs have been run amid high security following chaotic protest scenes in Western cities, particularly London and Paris.
On the torch’s Asian journey, Indonesian police on today broke up a peaceful rally by pro-Tibet demonstrators in Jakarta.
A day earlier, police in Kuala Lumpur said they detained a Japanese family waving Tibetan flags at the relay who had been hit by Chinese nationals with plastic batons.High-profile protestor Robert Menard, head of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, is planning to come to Japan to hold a rally.
Menard and two others disrupted the flame-lighting ceremony in Greece by unfurling a banner with Olympic rings replaced by handcuffs, setting the stage for demonstrations throughout the torch relay.Justice Minister Yukio Hatoyama denied reports that Japan was considering barring Menard from entering the country. "If he had received a criminal sentence, it would be a different story, but as of now there are no grounds to discuss denying him entry," Hatoyama told reporters.Japan has been trying to repair ties with China, which are uneasy due in part to memories of Japanese aggression. Chinese President Hu Jintao is due to pay a rare visit to Tokyo from May 6.
The Japan Buddhist Federation, the nation’s largest Buddhist body, gave a letter to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on Tuesday calling for a swift resolution to problems in Tibet, which last month saw the biggest protests in nearly two decades against China’s controversial rule.
"We, Japanese Buddhist monks, feel deep sorrow over the serious situation in which clashes in (Tibet capital) Lhasa and its vicinity have caused many casualties," Daijo Toyohara, head of the association, said in the letter."I would like you to make efforts to reach a humanitarian resolution as soon as possible through peaceful dialogue without the use of force," he said.
Buddhist monks said yesterday that they would hold a ceremony of mourning for Tibetans on Saturday at the seventh-century Zenkoji temple, which backed out of being the starting point for the relay.