Torch supporters, protesters mark Japan relay

Crowds of Chinese students waving red flags and signs such as “One World, One Dream, One China” scuffled with pro-Tibet protesters in the latest leg of the Olympic torch relay in Japan on Saturday.

Commenting on the turmoil that has bedevilled the global relay, International Olympics Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge urged the West to stop hectoring China over human rights.

“You don’t obtain anything in China with a loud voice,” Rogge told Saturday’s Financial Times. “That is the big mistake of people in the West wanting to add their views”.

“To keep face [in Asia] is of paramount importance. All the Chinese specialists will tell you that only one thing works—respectful, quiet but firm discussion,” Rogge added.

The global torch relay ahead of the Beijing Games in August has prompted protests against China’s human rights record, including in Tibet, as well as patriotic rallies by Chinese who criticise the West for vilifying Beijing.

As rain fell in Nagano, chants of “Go China” mixed with “Free Tibet” from the rival groups, who at times clashed despite the tight security in the central city, host to the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Four Chinese supporters were injured and three men were arrested, fire officials and police said, including one man who was wrestled to the ground after running into the relay path holding a Tibetan flag and shouting “Free Tibet”.

More than 3 000 police were mobilised for the relay, which comes a day after Chinese state media said Beijing would hold talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Buddhist leader of Tibet, whom it blames for recent unrest.

Japan was keen to avoid the chaotic scenes that marred some of the relay venues elsewhere ahead of next month’s visit by President Hu Jintao, the first to Japan by a Chinese president in a decade.

“I ran hoping for the Beijing Olympics to be successful and peaceful,” said Japanese Olympic gold medallist marathon runner Mizuki Noguchi, after lighting the flame on the podium at the end of the relay.

Tight security

Nagano Mayor Shoichi Washizawa read part of a United Nations declaration on human rights at an opening ceremony in a vacant lot, as crowds of mostly Chinese supporters watched from afar.

One hundred Japanese police officers shielded the torch-bearers in two rows on each side, accompanied by two Chinese “flame attendants” in blue-and-white track suits, while pro-China supporters waved red national flags along the route.

Scuffling broke out between pro-China and pro-Tibet groups, among whom were many Japanese right-wing activists, near Nagano’s main train station.
Police separated the rival groups. TV footage showed one injured man, with blood on his face.

Tibet has become a flashpoint for the anti-China protests that have disrupted the torch relay around the world and led to calls for state leaders to boycott the Olympic Games.

A small group of Amnesty International members protested in front of Nagano station, wearing blindfolds and chanting “Human Rights for China”. They were approached by a crowd of Chinese supporters chanting back “Liars, liars”.

The IOC’s Rogge urged the West not to be smug.

“It took us 200 years to evolve from the French Revolution. China started in 1949,” he said in the Financial Times interview, noting that was when Britain and other European nations were also colonial powers, “with all the abuse attached”. He added: “Let’s be a little bit more modest.”

‘Violence is wrong’

About 80 torch bearers took part in the 18,7km relay through the city, including the Olympic stadium.

When the relay drew to an end, a crowd of Chinese supporters, singing and chanting “One China” faced off with pro-Tibet protesters chanting “Free Tibet” from different sections of the park where the closing ceremony was held, kept well apart by a wall of police.

“We want to protect the Olympics,” said 35-year-old Chinese student Cheng Hon.

“Violence is wrong. We want to have peace in the world.”

Pro-Tibet activist Motoki Noike said his civic group had also aimed for peaceful demonstrations.

“We wanted to protest quietly but we weren’t able to,” said Motoki, who took part in a prayer service at the ancient Zenkoji Temple for all those who died in the recent unrest in Tibet.

Nagano residents were put off by the tight security and rival crowds. “This torch relay is no longer about the Olympics,” said retiree Kazuo Tamai. “There are so many riot police and officers around that local residents are very disappointed.”

The flame, which travels next to Seoul, is meant to transmit a message of peace and friendship, but its journey has been largely turned into a political event and the torch has been granted the sort of security usually reserved for state leaders. - Reuters

Client Media Releases

NWU hosts successful press club networking forum
Five ways to use Mobi-gram
MTN gears up for Black Friday sale promotion