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Chinese nationalists hit at Carrefour over Tibet

April 22, 2008

The Guardian,
Monday April 21 2008

Nationalist protests against the French supermarket chain Carrefour
spread across China yesterday, with thousands demonstrating outside
stores over the west's stance on Tibet. The authorities appeared to be
trying to damp down the protests, with the official media urging
citizens to be "calm" and "rational". Internet users said web references
to protests and boycott calls appeared to have been deleted, or the
relevant pages blocked.

Overseas, expatriate Chinese on Saturday rallied in Paris as well as
outside CNN'S offices in California and the BBC in Manchester - which
are also accused of alleged media bias over Tibet.

Carrefour appears to be taking the rap for France as a whole after a
protester in Paris tried to snatch the Olympic flame from a paralympian
during the relay, and because of a rumour that the supermarket had
donated money to the Dalai Lama. Carrefour says it has never given money
to any political or religious cause.

Protests reached China's north-east yesterday, with around 1,000
demonstrators turning out in the cities of Dalian and Harbin, while
Jinan, in the east, saw a small protest. In Xi'an, western China, more
than a thousand people waving banners gathered outside the supermarket
for a second day, chanting "oppose Tibet independence", "go China" and
"condemn CNN", according to the state news agency Xinhua.

Wuhan, in central China, also saw further demonstrations, with 2,000
protesters waving the Chinese flag and singing the national anthem.

Kunming, Hefei and Qingdao saw protests on Saturday. In Beijing on
Saturday, small demonstrations took place outside the French embassy,
the city's French school, as well as outside Carrefour.

All the protests were heavily policed and peaceful.

In an interview published in Journal du Dimanche, Carrefour's chief
executive, José Luis Duràn, said there had been no significant economic
impact, but the company was taking the situation very seriously. It has
2 million customers and 122 hypermarkets in China. He added: "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."

An editorial published widely in the state-run media called on people to
cherish patriotism "while expressing it in a rational way".

"The government allows people to vent ... but then immediately reins it
in," said Barry Sautman, a political scientist at the Hong Kong
University of Science and Technology. "They are afraid it will go too
far." He cited similar behaviour after anti-Japanese protests three
years ago, but told the Reuters news agency that the pending Olympic
games made the authorities particularly anxious to ensure the protests
ended as soon as possible.

The government also appears concerned about potential economic damage.
After calls for the Carrefour boycott began, an official commentary said
patriotic zeal should "concentrate on development", adding: "Thirty
years of reform and opening up have created a China miracle ... But we
must be crystal clear that the future road will not be all smooth-going."
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