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Europe

German, French Leaders Take Conciliatory Tone Toward China

Germany's foreign minister called for prudence when dealing with the thorny issue of China and the Olympic Games, while France's president sent envoys to Beijing in an attempt to calm tense bilateral relations.

The Olympic rings in Beijing

Supporters of the Chinese government want politics kept out of the 2008 Games

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for prudence when dealing with the thorny issue of China and the Olympic Games.

The Olympic Committee awarded the Games to countries whose constitutional development is not as far along as in the West, "because we wanted these countries to open up further due to the major sporting event and the attention of the world press," he told the daily Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung on Monday, April 21.

"We have to stand behind our decision," Steinmeier said, adding that Western capitals have engaged in discussions with Beijing for decades over the human rights abuses in China and the Tibetan independence movement.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks during a news conference after an agreement at the EU general affairs council in Brussels, Belgium, 18 February 2008. Foreign ministers debate over the recognition of Kosovo's independence after it was proclaimed by the state's parliament on 17 February.

Steinmeier: "We have to stand behind our decision"

Steinmeier said he sees his job as being to deflate tensions between Tibet and the Chinese government, a conflict that has unleashed protests worldwide and especially in cities along the route of the Olympic Torch relay.

Steinmeier urges a broad view

This job is made easier by the fact that China is eager to make the Olympic Games a success, Steinmeier said.

"We have to continue trying to convince the Chinese," he said. "I've been on the phone three times with the Chinese foreign minister and urged him not to use force" when dealing with protesters.

Steinmeier said the near daily aggravation of the situation is "not acceptable," but also called for Western governments to remain aware of the sea-change taking place in Chinese society.

"In a very short time, the country has brought 300 million people from bitter poverty to a humble prosperity," he said. "Great parts of the developing world look to China with interest and sympathy."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to be backpedaling on his hard line, as anti-French sentiment is mushrooming in Beijing. The Chinese have begun boycotts of Carrefour and held numerous demonstrations over the weekend outside the French retail giant's stores in China.

China's President Hu Jintao, left, shares a light moment with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, before dinner meeting at Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2007.

Sarkozy is not eager to harm relations with China

Sarkozy, who previously has urged the Chinese government to open talks with the Dalai Lama and has suggested he might boycott the Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing on Aug. 8, decided to send former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and the presidential foreign affairs advisor, Jean-David Levitte, to China to calm bilateral tensions.

Raffarin is scheduled to travel to Beijing on Wednesday to meet with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. He will be carrying a message from Sarkozy addressed to the Chinese leadership.

Personal apology from le president

In an effort to calm Chinese anger over the protest-plagued progress of the Olympic flame through France, Sarkozy sent a note to disabled female athlete Jin Jing, who had tried to defend the flame during its run through Paris.

"I wish to tell you that I was shocked by the attacks you were subjected to on April 7 in Paris," Sarkozy wrote. The letter was delivered to her Monday in Shanghai by French Senate President Christian Poncelet.

"It is understandable that the Chinese people were hurt, and I firmly condemn [those acts]," the French president wrote.

Jin Jing, a 27-year-old Para-Olympics fencer who lost her leg to cancer as a child, became a heroine in China after pictures were flashed around the world showing her protecting the torch from pro-Tibetan demonstrators from her wheelchair.

The torch was extinguished at least twice during its relay in Paris, and the relay itself was cut short because of the numerous anti-Chinese incidents along its route.

Counter-demonstrations in Europe

Meanwhile, Chinese in China and in Europe have begun staging counter-demonstrations, protesting what they say is a misleading depiction of China in the media and biased media coverage of the torch relay.

On Saturday, April 19, several thousand Chinese rallied in Paris, Britain and Berlin, supporting the Beijing Olympics.

Police officers restrain pro-Tibet demonstrators, waving a Tibetan flag, during the Olympic torch parade shortly after its beginning near the Eiffel tower, Monday, April 7, 2008 in Paris. Chaotic protests against China's human rights policies forced security officials to extinguish the Olympic torch twice during a relay Monday through Paris that became a tortured procession of stops and starts.

The torch relay met protest in Paris

Around 3,000 pro-Chinese activists demonstrated in the central Potsdamer Platz area of Berlin, gripping banners with messages like "Media = untruths," and "China Olympia, one world, one dream."

On the same day in Paris, nearly 4,000 Chinese students and other expatriates gathered in the Place de la Republique, according to police estimates. They wore T-shirts with the slogan "One China, One family," and waved signs criticizing the Western media.

"We're demonstrating against the disinformation in the French and Western media, to promote the Olympic Games and to construct a bridge between the French and Chinese people -- and not a wall as the media do," one of the rally's spokesmen, Thierry Liu, told the AFP news service.

More than 1,000 people, mainly students, also gathered outside the BBC's offices in Manchester, north-west England, while around 300 staged a demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament in London.

The European Commission on Monday said people were free to show their displeasure with the West's reaction to demonstrations in Tibet and media coverage of the run-up to the 2008 Olympics.

"All points of view can be expressed but of course all of this has to remain very peaceful," European Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger told reporters in Brussels.

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