China and France sought yesterday to cool tempers over Tibet and the Olympics, with a former French prime minister heading to Beijing for top-level talks criticizing a decision to honor the Dalai Lama.
Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who arrives today bearing a message from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said the Paris city council had contradicted official policy by conferring honorary citizenship on the Tibetan spiritual leader.
Raffarin is one of three senior French figures visiting Beijing this week, all carrying letters from Sarkozy as the president tries to repair relations damaged by pro-Tibet protests in France and hurt pride in China.
At the same time, the Chinese commerce ministry warned against an ongoing boycott of French supermarket giant Carrefour, noting that it employs 40,000 workers here and that up to 95 percent of its products are made in China.
Raffarin is due today to meet the Chinese premier and is expected to pass on Sarkozy’s letter at a separate meeting to the Chinese president.
In the southern city of Zhuzhou, protesters reportedly attacked a young US teacher on Sunday evening after he emerged from a local Carrefour.
Accounts on numerous Internet boards said the man was punched, pushed and chased and was only rescued by police after taking refuge in a taxi. The US embassy in Beijing said it had no information it could release about the incident under rules requiring a privacy waiver.
Meanwhile, six people were arrested as the Olympic flame arrived in Australia yesterday, while officials said they were prepared for more protests on the latest leg of the troubled global torch relay.
Even before a chartered airliner carrying the flame touched down in Canberra under tight security, protesters used the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a backdrop for their pro-Tibet message.
A man and a woman attempting to unfurl a banner and a Tibetan flag on the iconic landmark were arrested hours after lasers beamed pro-Tibet slogans including “Don’t torch Tibet” onto one of the structure’s pylons.
Four more people were taken into custody after raising a pro-Tibet banner on a prominent billboard in the city’s King’s Cross nightlife district, police said.
Australian officials have shortened today’s relay route through Canberra over concerns about security at an event expected to attract thousands of pro-China supporters and pro-Tibet demonstrators.
Barriers have been erected along the 16km route and more than half of the city’s police force will be on patrol.
Police said they were confident that security would be adequate, despite a dispute between Australian and Chinese officials over the role of the torch’s Chinese escorts.
A Beijing Olympics torch relay spokesman, backed by the Chinese ambassador, said that the escorts could use their bodies to protect the flame if necessary.
But Stanhope said this condition had not been agreed to by the Australian government.
In related developments, China has altered plans for foreign media coverage of the Olympic flame’s ascent of Mount Everest, citing weather conditions.
Changes to the plans mean foreign reporters would spend only 10 days overall in Tibet — about half the time initially planned.
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