12/27/2005 at 09:40 AM EST
In the dark of night Monday, Arnold Schwarzenegger's good name was removed from the front of a 15,300-seat soccer stadium in his hometown of Graz, Austria, where criticism had erupted over his refusal to halt the execution of convicted killer Stanley "Tookie " Williams.
Capital punishment is illegal in Schwarzenegger's native Austria. Opposition had run especially high in Graz, whose official slogan is "City of Human Rights," reports the Associated Press.
The name removal – Schwarzenegger Stadium was spelled out in giant metal letters – came during the post-Christmas lull, to deflect attention "and keep the media from taking photos," said a local city hall official who declined to be named.
The stadium now has its original name back, "Stadium Graz Liebenau." It had been named in Schwarzenegger's honor in 1997.
Still, the move was a surprise to some. "Arnie banished from the stadium's name," read the headline in the Graz daily Kleine Zeitung Monday.
Williams's Dec. 13 execution triggered a firestorm in Europe and ignited calls for Graz's stadium to be stripped of Schwarzenegger's name.
As a pre-emptive strike, last week the California governor wrote a letter to local Austrian officials ordering his name removed and saying that he was returning a ceremonial ring presented him by Graz officials in 1999.
In his letter, written in German, Schwarzenegger wrote, in part: "I denied the bid for mercy from a legally convicted quadruple murderer after very scrupulous examination, and he was executed according to the law of our country. In order to spare the responsible politicians in the city of Graz any further disconcertment, I withdraw the right, effective immediately, to use my name in connection with Liebenauer Stadium. You will receive a letter from my lawyers regarding this matter shortly."
As for the honorary ring, Schwarzenegger wrote that "since ... Graz obviously doesn't accept me as one of its own anymore, this ring has become worthless for me. It is already in the mail."
Schwarzenegger was born in the village of Thal just outside Graz, where he began his bodybuilding career.