China PM s UK trip ends in shoe protest

February 3, 2009 12:00 am

, CAMBRIDGE, Jan 3 – Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s European tour ended dramatically when a protester hurled a shoe at him as he gave a speech at Britain’s Cambridge University.

Police in the eastern English city later charged a 27-year-old man with a public order offence in relation to the incident, which came at the end of a three-day trip to Britain that included talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

In a clear echo of the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at George W. Bush in Baghdad in December, the Caucasian protester had shouted "This is a scandal" as he interrupted Wen’s speech from the back of the auditorium.

"This dictator here, how can you listen to the lies he’s telling? You are not challenging him," he said before blowing a whistle and hurling a sports trainer at Wen, who had been discussing China’s role in the globalised world.

The shoe landed about a yard from the Chinese premier, who glanced sharply to one side to watch it hit the stage, but did not appear frightened. A security man kicked the shoe off the stage.

As the protester was bundled out, he shouted to audience members: "Stand up and protest," to which some of the spectators — most of whom appeared to be Chinese students — retorted: "Shame on you, shame on you."

After the interruption, Wen reproached the demonstrator.

"This despicable behaviour cannot stand in the way of friendship between China and the UK," he said, receiving a round of applause from the audience.

China said Tuesday it had expressed its strong dissatisfaction to the British government over the throwing of a shoe at Wen, but emphasised that bilateral ties would not be harmed.

The Chinese government appeared to want to play down the embarrassing incident domestically, with the state-run press either censoring or ignoring the event and Internet chatter about it restricted to a few pro-China comments.

"The Chinese side has expressed its strong dissatisfaction about the incident," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement.

But it then acknowledged the British government had expressed "deep regret".

The incident echoed the protest by Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi against then-US president Bush on December 14, which won him global fame.

A spokeswoman for Cambridge police said: "Following an incident in the auditorium during the premier’s speech earlier today, a man has been charged with a public order offence." He will appear in court on February 10, she said.

She gave no information about the nationality of the man, who appeared to have a non-English, European accent.

Wen was interrupted as he delivered a largely anodyne speech in front of about 500 people in a concert hall here. Security was tight, and outside about 200 mostly pro-Chinese demonstrators were kept in two pens on the pavement.

Supporters waved red Chinese flags, some banged drums and there was a colourful paper dragon — although one banner said: "Remember Tiananmen."

Earlier, Wen held talks with Brown in London where he promised to join urgent and coordinated action to avert a global economic disaster.

Brown said Britain wants to double its exports to China within 18 months, and stressed the relationship between the two nations would be a "pivotal force" in weathering the global economic storm.

Wen’s first visit to Britain since 2006 came at the end of a high-profile European trip that included Germany, Spain, the European Union headquarters in Brussels and the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.

But the tour was clouded by pro-Ticapitalfmnewn protests which regularly target trips by Chinese leaders.

China is particularly sensitive about Tibet questions ahead of the 50th anniversary of the March 1959 uprising that led to the escape of Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, into exile.

In London, some 50 pro-Ticapitalfmnewn and 100 pro-Chinese demonstrators gathered outside Brown’s Downing Street office for rival protests to coincide with Wen’s visit there. Five pro-Ticapitalfmnewn activists had been arrested in a protest Sunday.

Chinese state television CCTV broadcast Wen’s speech in Cambridge but abruptly cut away from the coverage when the protest happened.

A proctor, who is responsible for discipline at the university, told AFP that university officials asked the protester to stop shouting and sit down.

"He continued, took off a shoe and then threw it towards the stage. The constables (university police) got to him and took him out," he said.

University Vice-Chancellor Professor Alison Richard said she "deeply regrets" the outburst, saying: "This university is a place for considered argument and debate, not for shoe-throwing."


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