Thousands turn out for anti-French rallies
Anti-French protests snowballed across the mainland yesterday as tens of thousands of protesters brandished banners defending China, attacking Beijing's critics and backing the Olympics.
But police banned protests in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, and official media stepped up efforts to damp down the protest movement targeting symbols of France including supermarket giant Carrefour.
From Beijing to Shanghai, Anhui, Henan, Wuhan and Qingdao, the French store chain was an easy target for the thousands of mainly young protesters. They are outraged by the violent disruption to the Olympic torch relay in Paris two weeks ago and French President Nicolas Sarkozy's suggestion he may boycott the opening ceremony of the Games unless Beijing opens a dialogue with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama following last month's rioting in Tibetan-populated regions.
Witnesses said as many as 10,000 protesters massed outside a Carrefour store in the Anhui capital, Hefei. By last night most of the protesters had left, but students said they planned to protest again today.
Outside a Carrefour store in Beijing, about 30 people chanted slogans, waved Chinese flags and held up placards and banners reading 'Boycott Carrefour', 'Tibet is part of China', and 'Shut up France'. Police and security guards brought the protest to an end after 45 minutes but 10 of the protesters were allowed to continue to the French embassy.
All the protests appeared to pass off without incident, though police in Shanghai detained three activists outside a Carrefour store.
State media said peaceful demonstrations against 'Tibet independence' were staged in several cities. But reports of the protests were much more brief and carried much less detail than those of recent days. Chinese overseas also staged protests.
Calls for boycotts of Carrefour and French goods have been simmering for more than a week.
Reports carried in state-run media had suggested a major shareholder in Carrefour had donated funds to the Dalai Lama, but the shareholder subsequently denied it.
Carrefour last week rejected an onslaught of internet criticism that it had meddled in Chinese politics and supported Tibetan independence.
The government did not expressly object to this latest bout of anti-western protest, but state media issued a call for calm on Friday. Yesterday Xinhua quoted scholars as saying shows of patriotism must use 'rational means'.
The protests yesterday and on Friday against Carrefour may only have been a prelude to bigger demonstrations on May 1, the date originally circulated on the internet and by SMS for a nationwide boycott of Carrefour. Some messages have called for a 17-day boycott from May 8.
State media quoted French ambassador Herve Ladsous as pledging respect for China's sovereignty and saying most French people had sympathised with wheelchair-bound fencer Jin Jing , one of the torch-bearers in Paris, who was attacked by a pro-Tibet activist who tried to grab the torch from her hands.
'I hope I can meet Jin Jing in person to show friendship and my deep regret,' he said.
He said boycotts of Carrefour would amount to a 'sanction against the Chinese people' given the thousands of Chinese people the supermarket chain employs and the mainland-made goods it buys.
Additional reporting by Choi Chi-yuk