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Scuffles break out in Japan torch relay

Latest update : 2008-04-26

At least four people were injured during the Japanese leg of the troubled Olympic torch relay, in the latest standoff between Chinese and pro-Tibet demonstrators. The flame's next stop is the South Korean capital Seoul. (Report: T. Grucza)

Protesters hurled rubbish and flares Saturday 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 more than 85,000 people packed the streets including Chinese students who turned the town into a sea of red national flags.
  
After relative calm elsewhere in Asia, the torch met at least 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, a tomato 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 Beijing 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, said he feared China's rise.
  
"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 kicked by anti-Beijing demonstrators until police intervened, 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 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.
  
Robert Menard, the founder of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders who helped set off global protests, hailed Japan's handling of the relay as the best yet and played down the significance of the scuffles.
  
"This has given democracy a great name," said Menard, who disrupted the flame-lighting in Greece last month.
  
"Here I was able to see Chinese people with their red flags right next to demonstrators waving Tibetan flags, all in a good atmosphere," he told AFP.
  
But some Japanese demonstrators were turned off by the tone of 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."
  
Five protesters, including one from Taiwan, were arrested for throwing objects or bursting onto the street to try to disrupt the relay, police said.
  
China, responding to intense international pressure, announced Friday it would resume talks "in the coming days" with a representative of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who returned to India on Saturday, after visiting the United States.
  
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.
  
The Nagano leg began 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.

Date created : 2008-04-26

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