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CRISIS IN YUGOSLAVIA

Demonstrators Besiege U.S. Missions in China

Asia: Protests--organized and spontaneous--express anger over NATO raids. Diplomatic ties could be harmed.

May 09, 1999|HENRY CHU and MAGGIE FARLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BEIJING — Hurling rocks, eggs and verbal abuse, thousands of protesters converged on U.S. diplomatic missions across China on Saturday and again today in demonstrations that initially seemed cooked up by the government but that boiled partially out of control.

Rowdy crowds marched outside the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and staged rallies outside the consulates in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou to protest the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia. In central China, protesters severely burned the U.S. consulate general's residence in Chengdu.

NATO described the missile strike as a tragic mistake, but protesters here viewed it as a deliberate attack on China for its opposition to the military campaign over Kosovo.

"They dropped bombs on us. Why can't we throw rocks at them?" demanded Beijing resident Yu Xiaoling, 48, who cheered as university students here pitched stones, bottles and bricks at one of the U.S. Embassy buildings.

Popular anger over the NATO campaign in Yugoslavia has been mounting here for weeks, and analysts on both sides of the Pacific said the real casualty of the embassy bombing in Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital, might be the already fragile relationship between Washington and Beijing.

Ties between the world's most populous nation and its most powerful one have seriously deteriorated since President Clinton's visit here last year, falling victim to sharp disputes over human rights, trade and allegations of espionage.

The missiles that struck the Chinese mission have pushed that tension to the limit, inflicting diplomatic damage that will prove hard to undo, at least in the near term, analysts said.

"The question is, does the Sino-American relationship become part of the collateral damage of the whole affair?" said Jonathan Pollack, a senior analyst at the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica.

The students in Beijing, who were ferried in by the busload Saturday afternoon from some of China's most prestigious campuses, shouted slogans, waved banners, sang the Chinese national anthem and even burned coveted U.S. dollars to show their outrage. Several youths acknowledged that school officials and the local government had encouraged and helped organize the protest, which the students stressed that they joined voluntarily.

But any sense of official control evaporated when hundreds of ordinary Beijing residents and bystanders picked up where the students left off in the late afternoon, thronging the streets for hours in possibly the largest-scale anti-American protest seen in China since the notorious Cultural Revolution.

At one point Saturday evening, witnesses said, diplomatic cars outside the U.S. Embassy were pelted with rocks and trashed as an angry mob grew more belligerent in attempts to push past Chinese police officers, who were called out by the hundreds to block the entrance to streets leading to the embassy.

Police formed human chains and stood in ranks several deep to keep back surging waves of protesters. As night fell and the atmosphere became more volatile, the demonstrators also began singling out onlookers who they thought hailed from the U.S. or other NATO countries.

"Are you an American?" one man asked a foreign journalist on the scene. "If you are," the man said, eyes flashing, "then your bike will be smashed."

"For every Chinese who died, one of them should die," snapped a woman in her 30s.

Thousands of protesters showed up again this morning, many bused in to the embassy district from some of the most preeminent universities, including Beijing University and Qinghua University.

Beneath a sea of red and white banners, the protesters marched along a marked route that took them past the British and U.S. embassy buildings. The crowds pitched bottles and rocks and shattered several windows in the embassy's visa section. Loud cheers of "Bravo!" were heard at each sound of shattering glass.

To roars of approval, protesters threw burning newspapers at the American flag in the embassy compound, as well as a burning bike tire that set a tree on fire briefly.

Police linked arms in front of the embassy and stood along curbs, trying to keep the protest march moving as smoothly as possible. The police were unarmed and for the most part adopted a friendly, cajoling manner. The protesters did not engage the police.

The crowd was a mix of students and residents, including people just swept along for the ride. Some, toting cameras, were clearly spectators.

An employee said the embassy would be shut Monday and Tuesday and that threats had been called in.

In Shanghai--where protests also continued today--a man was collared by police Saturday after he apparently slipped into the U.S. Consulate's walled compound, then lowered the American flag as protesters outside cheered.

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