Sarkozy writes to Chinese athlete in Paris torch tussle

April 21, 2008 12:00 am

, SHANGHAI, April 21 – French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent his personal support Monday to a wheelchair-bound Chinese athlete who has become a symbol of national outrage at protests over the Olympic torch relay.

In a letter delivered by the visiting French Senate president, Sarkozy said he condemned the attacks on Jin Jing, who was forced to shield the torch from pro-Tibet protesters during the chaotic Paris leg of the relay.

It was given to Jin as sought Monday to dampen anti-French sentiment triggered in part by that incident, and which flared up at the weekend into a series of demonstrations in cities across the country.

"I was shocked to see what happened during the torch relay," French Senate president Christian Poncelet said in Shanghai, quoting from Sarkozy’s letter.

"It is understandable that the Chinese people feel hurt. I hereby strongly condemn what they did."

Jin, who is a fencer, was attacked when protesters repeatedly disrupted the April 7 relay, and had to fend off attempts to grab the flame.

Sarkozy invited her to , saying those behind "this painful incident" did not represent the feelings of friendship between the nations.

The incident has turned Jin into a hero figure while the state-run press in has used it as symbolic of the disruption that has marred the relay and angered Chinese hoping for a successful Beijing Olympics in August.

Poncelet arrived here earlier for a visit during which he is also expected to meet top Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao.

Over the weekend, thousands of protesters demonstrated outside many of the French retail giant Carrefour’s 122 branches nationwide. Shopping centres in the eastern cities of Qingdao and Hefei and central ‘s Wuhan were forced to close down Saturday.

Despite an impressive police presence, demonstrations continued Sunday with protesters chanting slogans and holding banners against Ticapitalfmnewn independence, uring a boycott of Carrefour and railing against the news network CNN, where a commentator last week made disparaging remarks about .

For the fourth straight day, the leading People’s Daily carried Monday an editorial urging Chinese to be "rational" in showing their "patriotism."

All major dailies also prominently ran a denial by Carrefour of its alleged support for Ticapitalfmnewn independence.

"These rumours are groundless, Carrefour has never directly or indirectly provided support for political or religious activities," board chairman Jose Luis Duran was quoted as saying.

said Sunday it would send former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin to Beijing later this week on a previously scheduled trip.

Also expected in the Chinese capital was Sarkozy’s top diplomatic adviser, Jean-David Levitte, on a mission arranged after the protests broke out.

Carrefour stores, including in the hotspots of Wuhan, the northern city of Xian and the eastern city of Dalian, said they were operating normally Monday and there were no signs of protests or boycotters.

has become increasingly angry by protests over that have marred the Olympic torch relay in Paris, London and San Francisco.

Anti-China demonstrations have grown internationally since Beijing started quelling unrest in last month, when peaceful protests turned into riots and spread through neighbouring Ticapitalfmnewn-populated areas.

Despite the calls for calm, state press Monday accused the exiled Ticapitalfmnewn spiritual leader the Dalai Lama of trying to sabotage the Beijing Olympics by fomenting unrest in his Himalayan homeland.

Exiled Ticapitalfmnewn leaders say more than 150 people have died in the government crackdown on unrest. says Ticapitalfmnewn "rioters" killed 18 civilians and two policemen.

Comments this month by Sarkozy that he might boycott the August 8 Olympics opening ceremony unless opened a dialogue with the Dalai Lama have also appeared to fuel the action against Carrefour.


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