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Zenkoji Temple Leads Pro-Tibet Protests

April 27, 2008

Catherine Makino

TOKYO, Apr 26 (IPS) - As Olympic torchbearer Senichi Hoshino started the
Japanese leg of the relay in Nagano -- home of the 1998 Winter Games --
a prayer vigil began at the landmark Zenkoji Buddhist shrine in the city
for those who have died in Tibet following the Mar.10 crackdown.
The prayers at the 1,400-year-old temple and the refusal by monks to
allow the shrine to be used as the starting point of the torch relay on
Saturday appeared to weigh more than the handful of people waving
Tibetan flags.

For one thing there were many more people that pro-Tibet protestors
holding aloft red Chinese flags on the streets of the mountain town. The
Chinese, most of whom appeared to be students, blew whistles and carried
banners that read "One World, One Dream, One China".

Television images captured a pro-Tibetan protestor throwing himself at a
torch bearer and who was quickly overpowered by waiting policemen and
whisked away.

Ahead of the event, Japanese and Tibetan Buddhist monks banded together
to support the human rights of the Tibetans. The ‘Monks for Peace’
issued an appeal on Monday that said: "As Buddhists we pray despite
differences between each of us. What is happening in Tibet began prior
to the start of the torch relay. We all know, there were many precious
Tibetan and Kham (a province in Tibet) lives that were lost."

About 177 people are estimated to have been killed in the violence of
Tibet following the crackdown on dissent by Chinese authorities.

In a quiet ceremony in Tokyo on Wednesday, Japanese and Tibetan monks
along with hundreds of residents chanted, prayed and burned incense for
the Tibetan victims.

They also voiced their support for the Zenkoji temple's boycott of the
Olympic torch. The temple authorities were protesting against the
Beijing’s treatment of Buddhists in China and Tibet.

"We would like to say 'thank you' to the Zenkoji Temple,'' said Shuei
Kobayashi, Buddhist priest and co-chairman of Japan Committee for Tibet.
"The temple made a bold decision to withdraw its plan to host the
opening stage of the torch relay.''

Kobayashi said it was important for people around the world to know
about the suppression of the Tibetans and the real situation in their
troubled province.

Zenkoji was vandalised with spray can graffiti after it announced that
it was cancelling participation in the torch relay. The pillars and
outside panels were spray painted with squares and circles about a metre
high. The damage has had to be covered with plastic sheeting until the
desecrations can be removed. No one has claimed responsibility for
vandalising this national treasure, an active place of worship that gets
six million visitors every year.

Japan has 93.5 million Buddhists in a population of 127.5 million people
and a high percentage of people in education and public affairs are
known to be followers of the faith.

After Buddhism was brought to the country in the sixth century it became
a profound influence on its intellectual, artistic, social and political
life. Most funerals are conducted by Buddhist priests, and many Japanese
visit family graves and Buddhist temples to pay respects to ancestors.

Japan is anxious to repair its uneasy ties with China and took care to
maintain tight security for the flame as it passed through Nagano.

‘’The (Japanese) police will take good care of the torch," government
spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi said. "Any violence would be condemned and
taken care of by the local police."

But the Japanese government also took care to disallow Chinese security
personnel from participating in the relay although two 'technical
experts' were allowed to ensure that the flame stayed alive. "They are
technology experts and will relight the torch", Taniguchi said. ''They
are not members of the guards."

Taniguchi added that as a close neighbour Japan hoped the games ''will
be held and completed in a successful and peaceful fashion’’.

China has been firm in handling in what many see as a public relations
nightmare. China's foreign minister Yang Jeichi, on a recent visit to
Japan, called the Tibetan situation an internal affair.

The torch's last stop in Canberra, Australia, was marred by stray
anti-China protests, and as in Nagano, Chinese students turned up in
strength to wave their red national flags, overwhelming pro-Tibetan

In most of the Asia Pacific region the anti-Chinese protests were tame
compared to what happened in London, Paris and San Francisco where
thousands of demonstrators turned out an many were arrested.

In Pakistan, a close ally of China, officials restricted the relay to
stadium where only selected guests were invited. India shortened the
route and lined it with thousands of policemen who ensure that the large
population of Tibetan exiles in that country got nowhere near the flame
on a run that lasted slightly more than 30 minutes.

As the flame arrived in Nagano, 180 km north of the Japanese capital,
protestors waved Tibetan flags, including at a highway rest area where
the Chinese torch delegation stopped briefly.

China which wanted to showcase the Beijing Olympics as a 'coming out
party' symbolising its new clout in the world was outraged by the
protests that greeted the torch in major world capitals.

French human rights activist Robert Menard, who helped set off the
protests by disrupting the torch-lighting ceremony in Greece, arrived
Friday in Japan and told reporters that China had not ''respected its
commitments when it was awarded the games''.

But Menard had words of praise for Beijing's announcement on Friday that
China was prepared to open talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama
who runs a government-in-exile in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala.

"I am confident that the Beijing Olympics torch relay will be a
success," said Cui Tiankai, China's ambassador to Japan, as he received
the flame.

Chinese President Hu Jintao is due to visit Japan May 6-10 in the second
visit ever to Japan by a Chinese head of state and one that is expected
to help heal differences between the neighbours.

China hopes that the Dalai Lama can create conditions for talks by
‘’showing, through actual action, that he'll stop splitting the
motherland, stop instigating violence and stop disrupting the
Olympics,'' the official Xinhua news agency said on Friday.
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