China protest of U.S. grows

Demonstrations reported in at least 12 Chinese cities

Talks suspened

U.S. ambassador issues apology while `hostage' in embassy

May 10, 1999|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING -- Protests against the United States and NATO spread throughout China yesterday as angry demonstrators escalated attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites, carrying signs that demanded revenge and roughing up Westerners.

Demonstrations were reported in at least 12 Chinese cities, most of them involving university students. No serious injuries were reported, but property damage mounted, with police allowing chunks of concrete, paint-filled balloons and eggs to be thrown at Western embassies.

NATO again apologized for Friday's airstrike on the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia, but that did not satisfy the young demonstrators -- or the Chinese government, which approved the demonstrations.

More than 10,000 irate protesters marched through the capital's diplomatic district again yesterday, stepping up their attacks on the U.S. and British embassies and besieging the compounds for a second consecutive day.

"No question that we're hostages here," U.S. Ambassador James Sasser told the CBS program "Face the Nation" yesterday. He said rock throwers had broken nearly every window in the embassy's chancery and his personal residence and that embassy staff members could not leave.

The U.S. Embassy will be closed for the next two days along with the consulates in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang and Chengdu, the State Department said last night. The State Department also suspended government travel to China and urged American citizens to defer trips until conditions stabilize.

By early today, the protesters appeared to have ended their two-day siege. Sasser and his family emerged from embassy buildings for the first time since Friday. Sasser's wife, Mary, and their son Gray moved to a hotel in the capital early this morning, but the ambassador told CNN he was still unable to leave the embassy's main office building severalblocks from his home.

Yesterday's protests were the largest since the Tiananmen Square democracy demonstrations in 1989 and the biggest aimed at Western powers since the Cultural Revolution of three decades ago.

Responding to fears that the situation might spin out of control, Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao expressed support for the protests but added that China would defend Westerners and foreign embassies.

Westerners defended

"We will protect foreign diplomatic organs and personnel, foreign nationals in China and those who have come to China to engage in trade, economic, educational and cultural undertakings," Hu said in a national broadcast on China Central Television.

Elsewhere, anti-NATO protests were reported yesterday from Shanghai on the east coast to Lanzhou in the far west.

The official Xinhua news agency said tens of thousands of students took to the streets of the ancient capital of Xian, where protesters compared the NATO bombing to the work of "pirates."

In the central industrial city of Nanjing, students staged a sit-down protest outside a KFC restaurant and plastered windows with posters saying "Strike the U.S. Economy." A foreign student was beaten, witnesses said.

In the southern city of Guangzhou, 95 miles northwest of Hong Kong, more than 10,000 protesters marched past the U.S. Consulate, throwing bottles, burning American flags and chanting "Stop American mad dogs from biting." Protesters also smashed the glass doors to the German Consulate in Guangzhou last night, Hong Kong's Cable Television reported.

For the second consecutive day, more than 10,000 university students poured into the Beijing diplomatic district by bus.

Demonstrators pelted the three U.S. Embassy compounds with eggs, red and blue paint and chunks of concrete sidewalk tile. They also tossed flaming balls of paper over fences in failed attempts to burn the American flag. At least one protester climbed over an embassy fence before being removed by police.

Hundreds of Chinese police stood three and four deep in front of U.S. embassy buildings and maintained relative order as demonstrators marched past carrying signs with messages such as "A debt of blood must be repaid in blood," "North Atlantic Terrorist Organization" and "United Savages of America."

When protesters hurled pieces of concrete at the windows, crowds yelled, "Beautiful" as though they were watching a sporting event. Demonstrators greeted the sound of breaking glass with the kinds of cheers usually reserved for soccer goals.

Sitting in the branch of a fir tree, a young man in sweat pants led thousands of Chinese in a heartfelt chant: "Long Live China!"

Most foreigners avoided the area for fear of reprisals. One demonstrator hit CNN correspondent Rebecca MacKinnon on the head during a live telephone broadcast. As the crowd shouted "Kill her! Beat her!" students came to her rescue. Other Western reporters were pushed, punched and kicked.

Rock throwers also targeted the British and Albanian embassies in Beijing and gathered at the German Embassy.

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