BEIJING -- Demonstrators infuriated by the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade attacked U.S. and other Western diplomatic buildings here and elsewhere in China yesterday in the biggest anti-Western protests in decades.
As the government announced it had summoned U.S. Ambassador James Sasser to deliver the "strongest protest," over the embassy bombing, thousands of protesters swarmed into Beijing's tree-lined diplomatic district to lodge their own protest -- albeit one that was sanctioned by the government.
Carrying banners, pumping their fists and singing patriotic songs, large crowds of students marched up to the U.S. Embassy gates where they threw eggs, water bottles and small chunks of concrete that shattered some windows.
There were reports that at least four cars belonging to U.S. diplomats were damaged. Protesters also threw bricks and bottles at the nearby British Embassy, but did not appear to break any windows.
After dark, the demonstrations grew more sinister as large mobs prowled the streets, forcing some Westerners to hide in the shadows and take circuitous routes home.
In Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern province of Sichuan, protesters swarmed over the walls of the U.S. diplomatic compound, broke through the front door of the main consulate building, and set fire to the home of the top consular official in the city. There were no U.S. injuries reported, and Chinese police reportedly used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Xinhua, the government-controlled Chinese news agency, reported anti-NATO demonstrations in eight other cities, including Shanghai and the southern city of Guangzhou.
By this morning, hundreds of police had formed a protective cordon around the U.S. Embassy here and most of the protesters had left the immediate area. Police, however, told U.S. Embassy staff that demonstrations were planned across the city today. By 9: 30 this morning, about 2,000 people were already marching along Beijing's main boulevard -- a block from the embassy.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman said today that U.S. officials in Beijing were not getting adequate protection. Tom Cooney, the spokesman, said: "We feel that we are under a state of siege here. We don't have adequate security." He said the embassy had made a strong protest to Chinese authorities to provide better protection.
The government, without whose permission the demonstrations would not have been allowed, responded furiously yesterday to the strike against its embassy in Belgrade.
"The U.S.-led NATO has been wantonly bombing Yugoslavia for more than 40 days, killing and wounding large numbers of innocent civilians and it even launched air strikes against the Chinese Embassy," Xinhua stated. "The Chinese government and people express their utmost indignation and severe condemnation of the barbarian act and lodge the strongest protest."
The protest in Beijing, which at times resembled a parade in its precision, seemed highly organized. Hundreds of Chinese police were posted in the city's main embassy district, but rarely intervened.
Last night, as more demonstrators arrived and the atmosphere grew tenser, U.S. officials warned American citizens to take precautions and told embassy personnel to stay indoors.
Responding to reports in China's state-run press that NATO had struck the embassy in Belgrade with three missiles from different directions, some Chinese said they believed the bombing was deliberate.
"You Americans are bullying China," said a 40-year-old engineer who gave only his surname of Zhang. "I don't think this is a mistake."
"Is it because China is so pro-Yugoslavia?" asked his wife, who gave her surname of Wang.
While fueled by genuine anger and bewilderment, the demonstrations in Beijing also seemed facilitated and tacitly supported by the government. Late last night, protesters rode public buses to the embassy district -- which is about two miles east of the Forbidden City.
When a group of student protesters boarded university-provided buses to leave yesterday afternoon, a fatigue-green Jeep Cherokee filled with Chinese military men escorted them back toward campus. In interviews, some students spoke of taking direction from their professors.
The embassy bombing, which occurred before dawn yesterday, has only intensified strong official and public opposition here toward the campaign against Yugoslavia. Concerned about maintaining control over Tibet and reuniting with Taiwan, China views the NATO air war as a dangerous precedent for outside military intervention in what it sees as an internal matter.
Although Taiwan is independent, China views the island as a rebel province and has vowed to take it back by force if necessary. One-sided coverage of the war in Yugoslavia by China's state-run media, which routinely fails to mention the treatment of Kosovar Albanians, has also fired strong popular opposition.