China urges 'calm' as anti-Western protests continue

By: AP
By: AP

BEIJING (AP) -- China appeared to be trying to rein in a growing nationalistic fervor, urging its citizens to be "calm" and "rational" in the face of anti-Western protests against French retailer Carrefour that spread Sunday to more cities across the country.

More than 1,000 demonstrators carrying banners gathered for the second day in Xi'an in front of a Carrefour outlet, chanting "Oppose Tibet Independence," "Go China," and "Condemn CNN," the official Xinhua news agency reported.

In Wuhan, another 2,000 people, mostly students, waved the Chinese flag and sang the national anthem for the second day in a row.

Protests also were staged in the cities of Harbin, Dalian, and Jinan. An estimated 1,000 demonstrators blocked traffic in Dalian, while another 1,000 protesters in Harbin held up at a 33-foot-long banner in support of the Olympics, Xinhua said. Hundreds of police were monitoring the demonstrations in the five cities, which remained peaceful.

A front-page editorial in the People's Daily newspaper, the official mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party, called on people to cherish patriotism "while expressing it in a rational way."

"As citizens, we have the responsibility to express our patriotic enthusiasm calmly and rationally and express patriotic aspiration in an orderly and legal manner," the commentary said.

The commentary seemed to point to rising anxiety among China's leaders about a growing anti-Western backlash, fueled by anger over recent demonstrations in Paris, London and San Francisco during the Olympic torch relay. The relay has become a magnet for demonstrations against China's rule in Tibet and its human rights record.

Carrefour has been accused of supporting the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader and head of its government-in-exile, in rumors circulating on the Internet. The company denies that, saying it has never supported any political or religious cause.

An employee at one of the five Harbin Carrefour stores confirmed that protests "with many people" took place throughout the day Sunday, adding that the store remained open. The woman refused to be identified because she was not authorized to speak with the media.

Xinhua reported that police were monitoring all of the demonstrations, which remained peaceful.

One protest organizer in Xi'an, identified as Wu Sheng, said the demonstrations were not aimed at pushing customers to boycott Carrefour, Xinhua said.

"We do not support a boycott of French companies because the economy is globalizing. We chose Carrefour front doors only because we draw more attention there," he was quoted as saying.

In an interview published Sunday in the French weekly Journal du Dimanche, Carrefour's chief executive Jose Luis Duran said the company is taking the situation seriously, though it has not significantly affected its earnings.

With 2 million Chinese customers, "we cannot take the reaction of some of our clients lightly," he said. "It must be understood that a large part of the Chinese population has been very shocked by the incidents that have peppered the passage of the Olympic torch through Paris."

The protests began Saturday, erupting in front of Carrefour stores in Beijing and four other major cities - Wuhan, Kunming, Xi'an and Qingdao - according to witnesses and media reports.

In Beijing, demonstrators also appeared outside the French Embassy and the Beijing French School.

Protesters in Xi'an carried pictures of Jin Jing, a one-legged fencer in a wheelchair who has become famous in China after clinging stubbornly to the torch while a Tibet supporter tried to wrestle it away from her during the Olympic torch relay in Paris on April 7.

France-based Carrefour said in a statement last week that it has always supported the Beijing Olympics. Carrefour is the second-largest "hypermarket" in the world after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. It has 122 stores in China employing more than 40,000 people.

There has also been a backlash against Western media organizations, especially broadcaster CNN, for what is perceived as biased reporting on recent unrest in Tibet and neighboring provinces. Foreign journalists have received threatening phone calls and e-mails.

CNN insists it has reported impartially, and said in a statement last month that it refutes allegations that it "distorts its coverage of the events in Tibet to portray either side in a more favorable light."

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