- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2008

From combined dispatches

BEIJING — Chinese took to the streets in several cities yesterday to denounce calls for Tibetan independence and to demand a boycott on French goods after anti-China protests on the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay.

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

There were similar protests in the southeastern city of Hefei and the southwestern city of Kunming, with groups gathered outside branches of the French supermarket chain Carrefour.

In Beijing, there was a small protest at a Carrefour supermarket, but 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, told Reuters news agency.

A small group of people 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,” the Xinhua news agency said in a brief report in English on the protests.

In Paris itself, Chinese demonstrators waving flags and banners supporting the games held a protest against the way the situation in Tibet has been reported in the West.

“I’m very angry about the French people. They are ignorant about what is happening in Tibet,” said Xi Shengjun, who said he was an employee of a French company visiting on a business trip. “They just know what they have heard in their own media, and it is not the truth,” he said.

Protests targeted at the reporting by CNN, the British Broadcasting Corp. and European news networks were also held in Los Angeles, London and Vienna, Agence France-Presse reported.

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 yesterday quoted the French ambassador to China, Herve Ladsous, as saying he was sorry about the disruptions to the relay and that he would like to meet the disabled Chinese athlete targeted by protesters there.

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

The torch was in Bangkok yesterday, where security was tight after sometimes violent attempts to disrupt the relay in Europe and the Americas earlier this month.

The Olympic flame is scheduled to travel from Thailand to Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia before arriving in Japan, where it is expected to face some more hurdles.

On Friday, Japan’s well-known Zenkokuji Temple withdrew its plan to be the torch relay’s starting point, citing safety issues and support for fellow monks in Tibet. Yesterday, news media reports said the blue tracksuit-clad Chinese security guards who have followed the torch around the world will not be welcome in Japan, the Associated Press reported.

Torch runners in other countries have complained that the Chinese “men in blue” tightly surrounded them and acted aggressively, shouting orders at them and snatching a Tibetan flag headband from a runner in Paris.

Japanese police formally turned down Chinese Olympics organizers’ proposal for about seven security officials to escort the torch on April 26 through the city of Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported.

Japan does not need to rely on other countries for security, chief government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura said at a recent press conference.

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