KUALA LUMPUR: The Olympic torch arrived in Malaysia on Sunday ahead of a relay that is expected to take place under heavy security, while other countries in the region tried to minimize the potential for conflict when the torch is scheduled to arrive in their respective countries.
The flame arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport early Sunday on a plane from Bangkok, where the relay had been greeted by a few small protests. Some 300 Chinese students studying in Malaysia greeted the flame at the airport, as did representatives from the Malaysian National Sports Council and the police. Separately, a Buddhist group held special prayers at a temple in Kuala Lumpur, calling for a trouble-free torch run and for peaceful Olympics Games in August.
The Malaysian part of the relay is expected to begin Monday at Independence Square in central Kuala Lumpur.
The global torch relay, the longest in Olympic history, has become a magnet for protests by critics of China’s human rights record and its handling of recent protests in Tibet.
In Malaysia, some 1,000 police and security officers will be deployed on Monday, even though the police have not received reports of any planned protests, said a police spokesman who declined to reveal his identity, citing protocol. Roads along the 16-kilometer, or 10-mile, course will be closed to traffic.
In Nepal, soldiers and police officers guarding the slopes of Mount Everest have been given authorization to use “whatever means” required in the event of protests during the Olympic torch’s run to the summit of the mountain in early May.
The police and soldiers “have been given orders to stop any protest on the mountain using whatever means necessary, including use of weapons,” said Modraj Dotel, a spokesman for the Nepalese Home Ministry. He added that such force was to be used as a last resort, and that officers would first try to persuade protesters to leave and would arrest those who refused to do so.
Twenty-five soldiers and police officers have already established camps on the mountain, Dotel said, adding that more troops would be sent if required.
In Australia, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith appealed on television Sunday for restraint from those who planned to come to see the flame’s run in Canberra on Thursday.
“I urge people if they do turn up,” Smith said, “that whatever point of view they want to put, they put that point of view peacefully and do it in a way in which Australians would regard as appropriate,” Smith said.
“I’m very concerned that unless people turn up with that attitude we’ll have the Olympic torch equivalent of football hooliganism.”
The police in Canberra have erected steel fences along the relay route to keep demonstrators at bay. Separately, Australian war veterans have pleaded that the country respect a “peace precinct” on Thursday, which is one day before memorial day in Australia that honors veterans of World War I.
In Japan, Zenkoji Temple, a major Buddhist temple in Nagano, was sprayed with graffiti just days after the city withdrew a plan to host the torch relay there, the police said. The graffiti – consisting of white circular patterns and lines – was found Sunday morning in six spots of the main hall at the temple, the Japanese broadcaster NHK reported.
Zenkoji Temple was originally intended to be the starting point for the Japan leg of the Olympic torch relay next Saturday. But officials at the temple withdrew from the plan on Friday, citing security concerns and sympathy for Tibetan protesters.