China's Wen urges leniency for Cambridge shoe thrower

BEIJING Mon Feb 9, 2009 3:53am GMT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has urged leniency for a German student who lobbed a shoe at him during a speech at Cambridge University, the Foreign Ministry said.

The shoe-throwing interrupted a speech Wen gave on Feb 2 on the last day of a tour of Europe, echoing the hurling of shoes by an Iraqi journalist at U.S. President George W. Bush on his farewell visit to Iraq in December.

Martin Jahnke, 27, will appear before magistrates in Cambridge this week.

"Education is best for a young student, and I hope he will have the opportunity to continue his education. The return of a prodigal is worth more than gold," said the message from Wen, posted on the Foreign Ministry website over the weekend.

"I hope the student recognises his mistake and uses his developing eyesight to recognise the real China."

The gesture "aroused the strong indignation of the audience and the entire Chinese people, and hurt the image and reputation of Cambridge in China," read the message, which was conveyed through Fu Ying, the Chinese ambassador to Britain.

"We note that the student has openly apologised, Cambridge also quickly made its position known and will deal with the situation seriously... The student's actions show that he lacks even basic understanding of China."

China had originally condemned the protest as "despicable."

Its state-controlled media had originally referred only to an unidentified "interruption" of Wen's speech, but later relaxed and showed the full incident on the evening news.

Jahnke blew a whistle and yelled "How can the university prostitute itself with this dictator?" before hurling a black shoe towards the stage.

Wen paused as the shoe landed far wide of him and then continued his speech, ad-libbing that it would not affect China-U.K. relations.

(Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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