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China U-20 team's German tour halted after Tibet protests

© dpa/AFP/File | Protesters held Tibetan flags at the Chinese Under-20 team's friendly football match against TSV Schott Mainz on November 18, 2017, which led to the game halting for 25 minutes as the Chinese team refused to continue playing

BERLIN (AFP) - 

The China under-20 team's controversial tour of Germany has been suspended at least until the winter break following a row over the display of Tibetan flags, the German Football Association (DFB) announced on Friday.

"We believe this adjournment is essential in order to give us the time needed to discuss the situation calmly and openly and find a reasonable solution," said DFB vice-president Ronny Zimmermann.

"The two federations (German and Chinese) will try to work out a way of relaunching the project again quickly."

The DFB confirmed that the Chinese under-20 side will not play the three matches that been planned before the end of the year.

Last Saturday, the side played the first of 16 scheduled friendly matches against German lower-league sides, facing TSV Schott Mainz.

They lost 3-0 in front of a 400-strong crowd plus five camera teams and 25 reporters. However, the game was at one point halted for 25 minutes as the Chinese refused to continue after a group of six spectators hung out Tibetan flags.

With the match being televised live in China, the juniors only agreed to continue after the protestors from 'Tibet-Initiative Germany' -- four Tibetan refugees and two Germans -- took down the flags.

They were due to play a second match this Saturday against fourth-tier opponents in Frankfurt, but a new pro-Tibet protest had been planned for inside the stadium.

The Chinese authorities complained about the incidents and called for the Germans to show "mutual respect", but DFB president Reinhard Grindel defended the protestors.

"Freedom of expression is also acceptable inside football grounds and stadiums," he said.

The Chinese team's tour is part of an experiment, which runs until May, aimed at advancing the Asian superpower's chances at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but which has courted controversy.

China has ruled Tibet since the 1950s, and has been accused of trying to eradicate its Buddhist-based culture through political and religious repression.

Beijing insists that Tibetans enjoy extensive freedoms and that it has brought economic growth to the region.

© 2017 AFP