Olympic torch runs into blazing fire in Japan
NAGANO, Japan, Saturday, AFP - Protesters hurled rubbish and flares today at the Beijing Olympic torch and brawled with Chinese supporters in a chaotic Japanese leg of the troubled round-the-world relay.
At least four people were injured in the scuffles in the mountain resort of Nagano, where thousands of Chinese students had turned the streets into a sea of red national flags.
After relative calm elsewhere in Asia, the torch met hundreds of protesters here ranging from Buddhist monks and pro-Tibet demonstrators to nationalists, who provocatively waved Japan's old imperial flag.
Protesters threw trash, an egg and flares as the torch was paraded through the streets despite more than 3,000 police guarding the route, who had raised security to a level usually accorded to Emperor Akihito.
China had hoped the torch would be symbolic of its rising status and pride in hosting the August Games, but instead it has become a target for critics of Beijing's rule over Tibet and its human rights record.
Japan has been trying to repair uneasy relations with China dating to the legacy of Japanese aggression before World War II, but China is a top bugbear for nationalists here, who are notorious for noisy demonstrations.
“China is killing Tibetans, who are a very peaceful people, so I hate the Chinese government,” said Hisakazu Hattori, a 21-year-old student.
Another protester, Mitsuru Ishikawa, pointed to China's controversial rule over Tibet as a sign the communist nation was dangerous.
“China wants to conquer the world. I'm afraid that China will conquer Japan in the near future,” Ishikawa said.
Furious Chinese supporters in turn surrounded demonstrators waving Tibetan flags. In one brawl the Chinese charged with flagpoles and were in turn kicked by anti-Beijing demonstrators until police broke up the two sides, witnesses said.
At least four Chinese were injured, none of them seriously, said the fire department of Nagano, the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics some 180 kilometres (110 miles) north of Tokyo.
One young man, who appeared to be Chinese, was seen on the ground with cuts on his forehead as supporters wrapped a red Chinese flag around him.
“At first I didn't think I would come here as I didn't have the time or money,” said Xin Xin, a 24-year-old student wearing a Chinese flag. “But many things happened these past weeks. We had to come here to support the Olympic games in China,” he said.
Another Chinese student, Ma Ming, 23, came to show that “I believe in one China. “I'm just doing what I can to help the success of the Olympic games.”Three protesters, two from Japan and the third from Taiwan, were arrested for bursting onto the street to try to disrupt the relay, police said.
China, responding to intense international pressure, announced Friday that it would resume talks “in the coming days” with a representative of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
It would be the first known encounter since unrest broke out last month, triggering a Chinese military crackdown that exiled Tibetan leaders say left more than 150 dead.
Beijing insists no one died as it restored order, but that Tibetan rioters killed 20 people.
Some Japanese demonstrators were turned off by the harsh tone of Saturday's protests.
“We came here because we wanted to do something after seeing the news on Tibet,” said Yayoi Nozawa, 52, who came with her husband. “I wonder, though, why things don't go more peacefully.”The Nagano leg kicked off in a car park rather than a celebrated Buddhist temple, which had withdrawn in a protest at China's crackdown in predominantly Buddhist Tibet.
The Zenkoji temple instead held a prayer ceremony to mourn both Chinese and Tibetans killed in the recent unrest.
Some 300 people prayed in silence as 20 orange-robed monks read out the names of victims and hit a gong.
Senichi Hoshino, head coach of Japan's Olympic baseball team, was the first of 80 runners to set off on the 18.7-kilometre, four-hour relay accompanied by two lines of Japanese police.