Besieged Carrefour wins praise from China official

BEIJING, April 22 (Reuters) - China’s government stepped into the corner of embattled French supermarket group Carrefour on Tuesday, commending the way it runs its Chinese business and thanking it for supporting the Beijing Olympics.

It was the government’s first direct comment about the supermarket giant that has faced a storm of protests over the past week after ordinary Chinese accused it of supporting the Dalai Lama and seeking to undermine Chinese rule in Tibet.

Fully 99 percent of Carrefour’s 40,000 employees in China are Chinese and 95 percent of the products it sells are made in China, state broadcaster CCTV quoted an unnamed official from the Ministry of Commerce as saying.

“Some companies, including Carrefour, have said they would be against Tibetan independence and support the Beijing Olympics. We welcome such remarks,” the official was also quoted as saying.

Carrefour’s head, Jose-Luis Duran, has denied the allegations that it backs the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader who is the target of fierce criticism by Beijing.

While Chinese news reports have praised the patriotic upsurge seen in the street protests, they have also reflected growing unease over the anti-Western anger spoiling the country’s image ahead of the Olympics.

“We have also noticed that the French government and companies recently took some actions that are helpful to the improvement of bilateral relations,” CCTV cited the official as saying.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy conveyed a message of sympathy on Monday to a wheelchair-bound Chinese torch bearer who shielded the flame from protesters on the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay.

Over the weekend, Chinese took to the streets in several cities to demand a boycott of French goods and targeted Carrefour, part of an upsurge in nationalist sentiment in response to anti-China demonstrations that have followed the torch relay around the world.

Carrefour has said it felt no serious effect on sales from the protests in China but was concerned by the anger of local people. (Reporting by Langi Chiang; Editing by Simon Rabinovitch)