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Nagano, Japan, April 26 – Crowds of Chinese students waving red flags and signs such as “One World, One Dream, One China” scuffled with pro-Tibet protesters in the latest leg of the Olympic torch relay in Japan on Saturday.

Commenting on the turmoil that has bedevilled the global relay, International Olympics Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge urged the West to stop hectoring China over human rights.

“You don’t obtain anything in China with a loud voice,” Rogge told Saturday’s Financial Times. “That is the big mistake of people in the West wanting to add their views”.

“To keep face [in Asia] is of paramount importance. All the Chinese specialists will tell you that only one thing works — respectful, quiet but firm discussion,” Rogge added.

The global torch relay ahead of the Beijing Games in August has prompted protests against China’s human rights record, including in Tibet, as well as patriotic rallies by Chinese who criticise the West for vilifying Beijing.

As rain fell in Nagano, chants of “Go China” mixed with “Free Tibet” from the rival groups, who at times clashed despite the tight security in the central city, host to the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Four Chinese supporters were injured and three men were arrested, fire officials and police said, including one man who was wrestled to the ground after running into the relay path holding a Tibetan flag and shouting “Free Tibet”.

More than 3 000 police were mobilised for the relay, which comes a day after Chinese state media said Beijing would hold talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Buddhist leader of Tibet, whom it blames for recent unrest.

Japan was keen to avoid the chaotic scenes that marred some of the relay venues elsewhere ahead of next month’s visit by President Hu Jintao, the first to Japan by a Chinese president in a decade.

“I ran hoping for the Beijing Olympics to be successful and peaceful,” said Japanese Olympic gold medallist marathon runner Mizuki Noguchi, after lighting the flame on the podium at the end of the relay.

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NAGANO, Japan (AFP) — Protesters 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.

Tomonori Hirose, 32, came to Nagano from the western city of Osaka with a megaphone and a homemade Tibetan flag, saying he was outraged by China’s crackdown on fellow Buddhists who demonstrated in Tibet last month.

“I want to shout something out tomorrow at the relay runners, like, ‘Shame on you!'” he said.

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 (110 miles) north of Tokyo.

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.

He was handed the torch as Chinese embassy officials chanted in chorus, “Success to the Olympics, Fight, Beijing!”

An association of Chinese students studying in Japan said on its website it was organising buses for up to 2,000 people to head to Nagano to support the Olympics and “promote friendship between China and Japan.”

The relay comes to Nagano at a time when Japan is trying to repair ties with China, which have remained uneasy due to the legacy of Japanese aggression in the 1930s and 1940s.

Chinese President Hu Jintao is due to travel to Tokyo in early May in only the second visit ever to Japan by a Chinese head of state, the culmination of two years of fence-mending efforts.

“We hope that the relay will be carried out in a peaceful manner and an atmosphere in which everybody can celebrate,” Japan’s chief government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura told a news conference.

Japan was abruptly forced to change the torch relay’s course after a revered seventh-century Buddhist temple last week backed out of plans to be the starting point due to concerns over Tibet.

The Zenkoji temple instead plans to hold a Buddhist prayer ceremony to mourn people killed in Tibet as the relay sets off from a parking lot.

Japan plans to shut out the public from all stopping points during the 18.7-kilometre (11.5-mile) relay and is reportedly deploying some 3,000 police.

“Police will do their best to ensure safety,” said Shinya Izumi, Japan’s top security official.

But he said Japan will not accept the involvement of China’s specially trained crack unit of torch guards, whose brusque treatment of demonstrators have caused tension in previous relay legs.

Sachiko Maruyama, 64, who runs a fruit shop along the relay route, said that police stopped by a day earlier telling her to remove anything that could be used as a projectile.

“Initially, I was looking forward and I wanted to welcome the torch. But now, I’m not sure what will happen,” she said with a worried look.