BEIJING Chinese people took to the streets in several cities on Saturday to denounce calls for Tibetan independence and demand a French goods boycott following anti-China protests on the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay.
Pictures from the central city of Wuhan showed large crowds marching with banners reading: "Oppose Tibet independence, support the Olympics", and "Say no to French goods".
There were similar protests in the southeastern city of Hefei and the southwestern city of Kunming, with groups gathered outside branches of the French supermarket chain Carrefour.
In Beijing, there was a small protest at a Carrefour supermarket but police soon ended it.
"We are trying to wake up Chinese people's patriotism to let them make an effort for the Olympic Games and to work together to protest against Tibetan separatist activities," one protester, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.
A small group of people gathered near the French embassy protesting disruptions to the Olympic torch relay in Paris, holding banners saying: "Tibet belongs to China" and "Shut up you French". Riot police sealed off the streets leading to the embassy, and the group soon dispersed.
"Many participants in Kunming persuaded elders and kids to leave the crowd and maintained order during the protest," Xinhua news agency said in a brief report in English on the protests.
In Paris itself, Chinese demonstrators waving flags and banners supporting the Games held a protest against the way the situation in Tibet has been reported in the West.
"I'm very angry about the French people. They are ignorant about what is happening in Tibet," said Xi Shengjun, who said he was an employee of a French company visiting on a business trip. "They just know what they have heard in their own media and it is not the truth," he said.
France has tried to play down calls for a boycott of French goods, saying they were being made by a "very small minority" and Carrefour, which has more than 100 hypermarkets in China, has restated its support for Beijing's hosting of the Olympics.
The official China Daily on Saturday quoted the French ambassador to China, Herve Ladsous, as saying he was sorry about the disruptions to the relay, and that he would like to meet the disabled Chinese athlete targeted by protesters there.
"I deeply regret what happened during the torch relay in Paris," he said.
"I hope I can meet Jin Jing in person to show friendship and my deep regret," Ladsous added, referring to the disabled athlete, who has rocketed to national fame in China after fending off anti-China protesters in Paris.
Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, of masterminding the unrest as part of a bid for independence and with an eye to spoiling the Beijing Games. The Dalai Lama rejects the accusations and says he wants autonomy but not independence for Tibet.
The torch was in Bangkok on Saturday, where security was tight after sometimes violent attempts to disrupt the relay in Europe and the Americas earlier this month.
China renewed its verbal attacks on the Dalai Lama on Saturday, accusing him in the overseas edition of the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, of trying to use the cause of human rights to advance his agenda.
"'Human rights' seems like a trump card that the Dalai has a keen interest in. He loves to play it and he plays it well," the paper said in a frontpage commentary signed by a senior editor.
His failure to condemn "the cruel injuries inflicted on innocent Tibetans and Chinese by hooligans and their burning of shops and schools", showed his true colors, it added.
"In the history of China and other countries, is it possible to find a 'human rights guard' like this?" the newspaper said.
The Dalai Lama has spoken out against the use of violence, calling for talks with China and backing the Beijing Games.
China says he is insincere.
(Additional reporting by Lindsay Beck and Clotaire Achi in Paris; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Tim Pearce)