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Torch relay hit by protests in Japan

Protesters wave the Tibetan flag and take to the streets to denounce China's rulers as the Olympic Torch arrives in Japan.

world Updated: Apr 25, 2008 12:00 IST

Protesters on Friday waved the Tibetan flag and denounced China's rulers as the Beijing Olympic torch came to Japan for the latest leg of a worldwide relay marred by demonstrations.

Japan, which is trying to repair uneasy ties with China, has promised tight security for the torch run on Saturday through the central mountain town of Nagano, the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics.

As torch-bearers rolled into Nagano, hundreds of Falun Gong supporters marched with a loud brass band through the city's streets to condemn China's leadership, which considers the spiritual movement an "evil cult."

"Stop the mass murder by the Chinese Communist Party," read a banner held by marchers in yellow Falun Gong T-shirts, who were closely watched by dozens of police.

Separately, at least two demonstrators unfurled Tibetan flags as the Chinese torch delegation stopped at a highway rest area on its way to Nagano, 180 kilometres north of Tokyo.

"I'm doing this to show that Japanese also support Tibet," one of the protesters told camera crews, as Chinese tourists accompanying the torch countered by waving their own national flag.

China wants the Beijing Olympics to symbolise the country's rising clout on the international stage and has been outraged by major protests during the torch relay, particularly chaotic scenes in London and Paris.

A chartered plane emblazoned with the slogan, "Journey of Harmony," flew the torch into Tokyo from Australia early in the morning.

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