Japan says no to Chinese torch guards: reports

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan will not allow the squad of Chinese flame guards to intervene with the Beijing Olympic torch’s progress when it arrives in a Japanese city this month, the national police head was quoted as saying on Friday.

“We should not violate the principle that the Japanese police will firmly maintain security,” Kyodo news agency quoted Shinya Izumi, head of the National Public Safety Commission, as saying.

“We do not know what position the people who escorted the relay are in,” Izumi was quoted as saying. “If they are for the consideration of security, it is our role.”

The torch is set to arrive in Nagano, central Japan, where the Winter Games were hosted in 1998, on April 26, after passing through Buenos Aires, Mumbai, and Canberra, among other cities.

A phalanx of large and physically fit Chinese men in blue-and-white track suits has been trotting besides the torch along its ambitious global torch route and turned off the flame several times in Paris earlier this week.

Chinese state media have reported that the “flame protection squad”, consisting of some 70 members of China’s People’s Armed Police, has been employed by the Beijing Olympic Organising Committee to safeguard the fire for 24 hours a day.

But the squad’s heavy-handed approach in managing the torch relay -- which has been a magnet for chaotic demonstrations in London, Paris, and San Francisco over China’s human rights record and recent government crackdown on monk-led protests in Tibet -- has made some uncomfortable.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said Australia, not China, would be the one to provide security for the flame when it comes to his country..

Despite heightened security concerns, Japan’s Olympic Committee was quoted as ruling out the possibility of shortening or making any other changes to the torch relay in Nagano.

“Personally, I’m not thinking about changing anything,” Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda was quoted as saying by Kyodo news agency.

The torch relay’s San Francisco route was abruptly changed by city officials this week, while Indonesia has said it would significantly shorten its leg of the relay on April 22.

Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Jerry Norton