Protests in China Target French Stores, Embassy

By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, April 20, 2008

BEIJING, April 19 -- A small knot of Chinese protesters demonstrated outside the French Embassy on Saturday, denouncing calls for Tibetan independence and venting anger at those who tried to grab the Olympic torch from a disabled Chinese athlete during the Paris stretch of the relay.

In several other cities across China, hundreds of protesters jammed parking lots in front of French-owned Carrefour supermarkets, waving Chinese flags and calling for a boycott.

The Chinese government generally bans such demonstrations. But in the weeks since protests erupted in Tibet over Chinese rule, the government has angrily attacked what it sees as anti-Chinese bias in foreign media and warned that outsiders were attempting to split the country. Nationalist sentiment is running high, especially in Internet forums, where users exhort one another to fight back.

At the French Embassy, a short line of cars carrying banners that read "Tibet Belongs to China" in Chinese, English and Japanese circled the perimeter, with at least one car blaring the Chinese national anthem, according to witness reports. Police, some in riot gear, quickly cordoned off the area, and the protesters left after about 30 minutes. Streets around the embassy remained blocked into the evening.

Large protests erupted at Carrefour stores in at least five Chinese cities Friday night and Saturday. Carrefour became a target of Chinese anger after rumors spread online that LVMH, the luxury goods company and largest single shareholder in Carrefour, had given money to the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, whom China accuses of organizing the Tibetan protests and disrupting the Olympic torch relay. Chinese activists sent a blast of cellphone text messages calling for a May 1 boycott of the retailer, which has more than 100 supercenters in the country.

In an interview published Wednesday in the French daily Le Figaro, LVMH's chief executive, Bernard Arnault, called the rumors "groundless." Carrefour's Chinese arm issued a statement Tuesday saying it "has never, and will not do anything that will hurt the feelings of the Chinese people."

Photos of the protests posted online show large crowds at several stores. In a few photos, police standing nearby make no attempt to break up the demonstrations.

One photo shows a protester in the southern manufacturing center of Shenzhen unfurling a large red banner in front of Carrefour with the words: "We protest strongly against shameless France for supporting the Tibetan splittists. . . . We boycott French goods strongly and we call for all Chinese people with conscience to take action and boycott Carrefour."

The Carrefour in the port city of Qingdao closed early on Friday night after protesters blocked the entrance, according to one witness.

The Chinese have long had warm feelings for France, which in 1964 became the first large Western country to recognize the People's Republic of China. The French ambassador to China, Hervé Ladsous, met with members of the Chinese media Friday and expressed regret for the disruption of the torch relay in Paris. He said he hoped to meet Chinese torchbearer Jin Jing, who was attacked during the relay.

The Chinese media have portrayed Jin as a heroine for protecting the torch in Paris. But she began attracting criticism online after saying in a TV interview that she was unsure about the Carrefour boycott. Jin said she supports patriotic activities "on one condition, which is not to hurt Chinese. Carrefour has lots of Chinese employees. I hope it won't hurt them."

The official New China News Agency also cautioned that protests against foreign companies should not get out of hand, calling for "patriotic zeal to concentrate on development."

News researcher Liu Liu contributed to this report.

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