02/03/2009, 00.00
CHINA - GREAT BRITAIN
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After Bush, Wen Jiabao also target of shoe throwing

A young man throws a shoe at the Chinese prime minister, while he is speaking at the University of Cambridge. Embarrassment in the Chinese media, which want to describe Wen's visit to Europe as an unclouded success, after difficult relations in 2008 over the repression in Tibet.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Beijing is hailing as "a success" the visit of prime minister Wen Jiabao to London, but it is declining to narrate yesterday's shoe-throwing incident, during a speech by Wen at the University of Cambridge. A 27-year-old man threw a shoe (in the photo: the shoe), which missed Wen by at least a meter. Wen continued his speech after a brief pause, adding that "We come in peace . . . History shows harmony will not be obstructed by any force."

The Chinese foreign minister calls the episode despicable, and stresses that it will have no negative effects on good Chinese-British relations. Just before the incident, Wen and British prime minister Gordon Brown signed a series of economic agreements.

But the embarrassment of the official Chinese media is significant: the People’s Daily, an organ of the Communist Party, says that Wen received "sustained applause" at Cambridge, but does not mention the shoe. The agency Xinhua praises Wen's week-long trip to Europe as "fully successful," but mentions Beijing's "strong dissatisfaction" over an unspecified incident. The state-run China Central Television, which broadcast the speech live, interrupted the program immediately after the protest, but by then the viewers had already seen it.

The visit is intended to reinforce friendly relations, after the long period of coolness that followed the Chinese repression in Tibet in March of 2008, which seems not to have ended. There were protests by pro-Tibet demonstrators throughout Wen's visit to Great Britain. In Cambridge, he was greeted by both supporters and opponents, who were kept at a distance by a massive police presence.

The incident recalls the shoe that the journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi threw at former U.S. president George W. Bush in Iraq. It is possibly for this reason that Chinese internet users are taking things in stride. One visitor to Sina.com writes that "The protest proved that China's power had been recognised by the British. People wouldn't protest against a little country."

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