Public banned from Japan torch leg

Japan will shut out the public at the start, midpoint and end of its leg of the Olympic torch relay, which has been marred by protests over Beijing's crackdown in Tibet.

The torch will travel on Saturday through the mountain town of Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics.

The relay will start at a car park after a revered Buddhist temple backed out in protest over the Tibet situation.

The city had decided that "the starting point and midpoint will now be limited to people linked to the Beijing Olympic Committee and invited guests," local official Takuro Miyashita said.

"We made the decision after consulting with local police who are primarily in charge of security."

In the final part of the relay, the public will sit in stands and watch a giant screen but be blocked by a fence.

Originally, the public would have had free access to the start and midpoint of the relay and could take photos during a scheduled 20-minute break.

The public would still be able to watch the torch along the 18.7km route, although they would have to do so from behind a fence, officials said.

"This is unavoidable so as to realise a smooth relay," said Kunihiko Shinohara, head of the Japanese leg of the torch relay.

China was outraged after chaotic scenes during the torch relay in Western cities, particularly London and Paris, as protesters railed against Beijing's human rights record.

The torch relay made its way through Canberra today, with organisers of the Australian leg hailing the event "a raging success" despite at least seven arrests and numerous clashes between protesters.

Japan has been trying to repair uneasy ties with China and is due to host President Hu Jintao on a rare visit early next month.

Nagano planned to further raise security with about 3000 police officers along the relay route, up from 1200 originally planned, Jiji Press and other Japanese media said.

Copyright © 2008 Herald Sun

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