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Olympics: Tokyo 2020 Olympic torch relay to start in Fukushima

In this July 10, 2018 photo, International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates, center, and Tokyo Olympic organizing committee President Yoshiro Mori, left, smile during their inspect a construction site of Equestrian event venue of the 2020 Olympics at Equestrian Park in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Tokyo Olympic organizers said Thursday the torch relay for the 2020 Games will start on March 26 that year in Fukushima Prefecture, which was heavily hit by the 2011 earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster.

The plan was approved in a meeting attended by top metropolitan government officials after a proposal to start the torch tour in the northeastern Japan prefecture.

"With Fukushima named the starting point of the torch relay, (the relay) will be a symbol of the Olympics of recovery," said reconstruction minister Masayoshi Yoshino.

"We want to use this as a global showcase for Japan's recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake. In order to restore livelihoods in the disaster-struck areas, we hope that victims take part (in the relay) as torch runners," he said.

Tokyo Olympic organizing committee President Yoshiro Mori stressed that the committee had tried to formulate the torch relay plan by listening to various ideas.

"It's not possible to figure out the plan which would absolutely be the best. We agreed to do it with the disaster-hit areas and their recovery in mind," he said.

Organizers were considering starting torch relay, which is expected to run for 121 days, in either the disaster-affected areas or in Okinawa Prefecture, the starting point of the torch relay for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

People in Fukushima Prefecture welcomed the torch relay plan, which the prefecture sees as a good chance to raise the profile of its recovery all over the world.

"We are grateful that they have considered the feelings of the disaster victims," said Jun Suzuki, an official of the prefecture's Olympic and Paralympic Games promotion office, adding, "I believe it will be an opportunity to encourage Fukushima people."

Masamichi Matsumoto, a storekeeper who was evacuated from the town of Futaba, near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, to Iwaki city in the prefecture, rejoiced at the announcement, saying, "Memories of the disaster are wearing thin as more than seven years have passed, but it is the utmost delight for us to have an occasion to attract (worldwide) attention."

"We expect the (torch) relay will bring about great excitement in the devastated areas," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.

The torch relay will visit all of Japan's 47 prefectures and end on July 24, 2020, with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron during the Games' opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Tokyo.

"For me it is very pleasing that the torch relay will be going to all of Japan's prefectures, because we know the importance of taking the games to all of Japan," said Australian John Coates, the chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission for Tokyo 2020.

Mori thanked the IOC for allowing the relay to go on for 121 days despite asking it be completed in 100.

"I am so grateful to the flexibility showed," Mori said.

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