/ 19 April 2008

Chinese protest Tibet independence, slam France

Chinese people in several cities took to the streets on Saturday to denounce Tibetan independence and call for a boycott of French goods following anti-China protests on the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay.

Pictures from the central city of Wuhan showed large crowds marching carrying banners reading: ”Oppose Tibet independence, support the Olympics”, and ”Say no to French goods”.

There were similar protests in the south-eastern city of Hefei and the south-western city of Kunming, with groups of people gathered outside branches of French supermarket chain Carrefour.

In Beijing, there was a small protest at a Carrefour supermarket, though police soon ended it.

”We are trying to wake up Chinese people’s patriotism to let them make an effort for the Olympic Games and to work together to protest against Tibetan separatist activities,” one protester, who declined to be identified, said.

A small group of people also gathered near the French embassy protesting disruptions to the Olympic torch relay in Paris, holding banners saying: ”Tibet belongs to China” and ”Shut up you French”. Riot police sealed off the streets leading to the embassy, and the group soon dispersed.

”Many participants in Kunming persuaded elders and kids to leave the crowd and maintained order during the protest,” Xinhua news agency said in a brief report in English on the protests.

France has tried to play down calls for a boycott of French goods, saying they were being made by a ”very small minority” and Carrefour, which has more than 100 hypermarkets in China, has restated its support for Beijing’s hosting of the Olympics

The official China Daily on Saturday quoted French ambassador to China, Herve Ladsous, as saying he regretted what happened in Paris, and that he would like to meet the disabled Chinese athlete targeted by protesters there.

”I deeply regret what happened during the torch relay in Paris,” he said.

”I hope I can meet Jin Jing in person to show friendship and my deep regret,” Ladsous added, referring to the disabled athlete who has rocketed to national fame in China after fending off anti-China protesters in Paris.

Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, of masterminding the unrest as part of a bid for independence and with an eye to spoiling the Beijing Games. The Dalai Lama rejects the accusations and says he does not seek independence for Tibet.

The torch was in Bangkok on Saturday, where security was tight following sometimes violent attempts to disrupt the relay in Europe and the Americas earlier this month. — Reuters