- China - Olympic Games - Tibet
Hundreds of Chinese protested Saturday in Beijing and several other big cities against France over its attitude towards Tibet and the Olympic Games, according to police and witnesses.
The largest anti-foreign demonstrations to hit China in three years mainly targeted branches of Carrefour, the French supermarket chain accused by some Chinese of supporting Tibet, an allegation it denies.
"There were a couple of hundred, mostly young people in the morning, and by noon they were gone," said an employee at a bookstore near one Carrefour outlet in the central city of Wuhan, asking not to be named.
Initially the demonstration involved 300, a separate source said quoting a Wuhan police report, but the number of protestors swelled as high as 10,000 towards noon.
AFP could not independently confirm the number, but photos posted on a web portal depicted huge crowds in front of a Carrefour in Wuhan, with one protestor carrying a French flag with the Nazi swastika painted on it.
At the protests, crowds chanted "Boycott Carrefour" and "Oppose Tibet independence," according to Xinhua, the state-run news agency.
It reported protests in Beijing, in the eastern cities of Hefei and Qingdao, in southwestern Kunming city, and in Wuhan.
They were the first Chinese protests specifically targeting France since Paris and Beijing established diplomatic relations in 1964.
Anti-French sentiment in China has been rising since the chaotic Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay, where pro-Tibet protesters tried to wrestle the flame from Jin Jing, a young wheelchair-bound fencer.
The resentment has been amplified by French President Nicolas Sarkozy linking his appearance at the Olympic Games opening ceremony to progress on human rights in Tibet, following China's crackdown in the region.
Smaller protests erupted in Beijing around the French Embassy and the nearby French School, Xinhua and other witnesses said.
About ten cars draped in Chinese flags drove around the embassy before the area was blocked by police, witnesses said.
A little later, a small group of Chinese people gathered in front of the school, holding placards, the witnesses said.
Previous outbursts of public anger aimed at foreign countries include 1999 demonstrations after US forces mistakenly bombed China's Belgrade embassy, and anti-Japan protests in 2005 triggered by a range of grievances.
On Saturday China repeated calls for its citizens to harness their patriotic feelings for the purposes of economic development, in a sign Beijing may be uncomfortable with a nationalist outburst over Tibet as the Olympics approach.
"We should turn our patriotic fervour into a common determination to ensure social stability, national development and rejuvenation," the People's Daily said in an editorial.
The editorial, which followed similar Xinhua opinion pieces, was summarised on prime-time TV news, ensuring the message would reach hundreds of millions.
The same TV programme reported the French ambassador to China Herve Ladsous was "regretful" for the disruption of the torch relay in Paris.
In Hefei on Saturday, the square where Carrefour is located was packed with people, a receptionist in a restaurant across the street told AFP.
"There are protestors and people who gathered to watch and show their support. Even crossovers and footpaths are packed with people," she said.
"Yesterday, there were many trucks in the parking lot of Carrefour and people standing on top of the trucks to protest."
A witness in Qingdao said there were a large number of demonstrators at a Carrefour on Friday and Saturday.
"Today, there are more people than yesterday joining in. With all those protestors, I wonder how anyone can still manage to buy stuff there," she said.
No injuries or arrests were reported at the demonstrations. AFP was unable to confirm if they were spontaneous or engineered by the government.
Violence in Tibet's capital Lhasa erupted on March 14 after four days of peaceful protests against 57 years of Chinese rule, and spread into neighbouring Tibetan-populated areas.
Exiled Tibetan leaders say more than 150 people have died in the government crackdown. China says Tibetan "rioters" have killed 18 civilians and two policemen.