Japan moves start of Olympic torch relay to parking lot

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan has decided to start the upcoming Olympic torch relay in a parking lot, officials said Monday, after a major Buddhist temple backed out of the event over security concerns and sympathy for Tibetans.

On Friday, Buddhist monks at the centuries-old Zenkoji temple refused to host the start of the relay, which has been a magnet for critics of China's human rights record and its recent crackdown in Tibet after anti-government riots there.

Nagano city officials now plan to start the April 26 leg of the run at a city-owned parking lot, said Yuya Kobayashi at the city planning committee for the relay.

The new site is part of a government district about 1/2 mile from the initial site and would not affect the distance of the relay or security planning, Kobayashi said.

"We were pressed for time but were able to find an alternative site nearby," he said. "Fortunately, we hardly have to change our initial plans."

Vandals over the weekend spray painted the temple with white paint after it announced it would not host the relay's start, though officials would not say whether the two events were related.

In Malaysia on Monday, 1,000 police stood ready to guard the relay against protests. A Buddhist group held special prayers at a Kuala Lumpur temple for a trouble-free torch run and a peaceful Olympics in August.

Since protesters disrupted the torch's stops in London, Paris and San Francisco, its more recent legs in South America, Africa and Asia have been relatively trouble-free.

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