BEIJING (Reuters) - Hundreds of Chinese demonstrated in front of outlets of French supermarket chain Carrefour on Thursday, denouncing Tibet independence and voicing support for the Beijing Olympics, Xinhua news agency said.
“We’re here because of what happened in Paris where there were violent protests. We’re here to show the outside world has a misperception about China, that Chinese people are united and firm, but you can see that we’re not at all violent,” said one protester, who would only give his family name, Lan.
Carrefour became a target of Chinese anger, drawing an outpouring of nationalism and indignation, after the chaotic Olympic torch relay in Paris, which saw pro-Tibet protesters try to snatch the flame away from a wheelchair-bound athlete, Jin Jing.
Xinhua said in that hundreds of protesters held Chinese national flags and shouted slogans against Carrefour and ‘Tibet independence’ in front of the outlets of the French retailer in the cities of Changsha, Fuzhou and Shenyang.
In the southeastern city of Fuzhou, protesters handed out Chinese flags and leaflets, while the southwestern city of Chongqing was hit too, the state news agency said.
“About 400 people are gathering on the square discussing protest plans,” it said of Fuzhou. “Local officials and about 40 policemen have arrived at the scene to maintain order.”
In the southern city of Changsha some 200 protesters “tried to persuade people not to purchase at the store”, Xinhua said.
And in the tourist city of Xian, home to the Terracotta Warriors, about two dozen mainly young men held an orderly protest outside Carrefour, carrying red banners reading “Boycott Carrefour as soon as possible” and “Boycott France”.
Security was also stepped up at branches in Beijing and commercial hub Shanghai, but most shoppers went about their business as if nothing was amiss, with just a handful of protesters in the capital cheered by onlookers.
“It’ll take time to repair damage to Carrefour’s image,” said housewife Lin Zhao, 60, shopping in a Beijing branch.
Last month, Chinese took to the streets in several cities to demand a boycott of French goods, and targeted Carrefour in their protests.
Chinese Internet users also accused the French retail giant of supporting pro-Tibetan independence groups seeking to disrupt the Beijing Olympics.
Supporters of a boycott said brands under luxury goods group LVMH had “donated a lot of money to the Dalai Lama”, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
Carrefour is 10.7 percent-owned by Blue Capital, a holding company owned by property group Colony Capital and French billionaire Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of luxury goods group LVMH.
China’s government, in an effort to moderate the nationalistic fervor, stepped into the corner of the embattled French supermarket group last week, commending the way it runs its Chinese business and thanking it for supporting the Beijing Olympics.
State broadcaster CCTV quoted an unnamed official from the Ministry of Commerce as saying that 99 percent of Carrefour’s 40,000 employees in China are Chinese, and 95 percent of the products it sells are made in China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao told Reuters in an interview this week that China did not hate France.
“From the Chinese people’s point of view, there isn’t any hostility or hatred toward the French people. Their biggest feeling is probably puzzlement: why did such things happen in Paris?” he said.
Carrefour’s head, Jose-Luis Duran, has denied allegations that it backs the Dalai Lama, who is the target of fierce criticism by Beijing.
But the supermarket chain cancelled a sales promotion planned for the May Day holiday.
“Considering the present situation, we have decided to cancel this event,” the company said in an emailed statement.
Additional reporting by Beijing Bureau and Lucy Hornby in Xian; Editing by David Fox
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