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China Seeks to Restrain Public Anger Over Embassy Bombing

By Henry Chu and Maggie Farley
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- BEIJING

Thousands of protesters continued to march on the U.S. Embassy here Monday, but China tried to rein in public anger and for the first time held out the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Sino-U.S. ties caused by NATO’s bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia.

In a list of demands made by telephone to U.S. Ambassador James R. Sasser, who remained trapped inside an embassy building, Beijing demanded a formal apology, a thorough investigation and punishment for those responsible for the attack.

The Communist regime also announced that it was suspending human rights talks with the United States and high-level military exchanges, two key programs the White House has held up as proof of the success of its strategy of “engaging” China.

At the same time, however, Chinese officials tried to reassure jittery American companies that their investments and businesses would be protected from the anti-American backlash.

President Clinton already has written a letter of regret to Chinese President Jiang Zemin and expressed his condolences Sunday to the families of the three Chinese killed in the airstrike. But those facts have not been reported in the media here.

In Washington, the State Department disclosed that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited the Chinese Embassy early Sunday to personally deliver a letter of apology addressed to Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan after Tang refused to talk to her on the telephone.

On Monday, Albright told reporters that in her midnight visit she “made very clear that I understood the sadness of losing innocent diplomats.” But she said she added: “Ours was a tragic error; (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic targets innocent civilians on a regular basis or as a regular part of his policy.”

In the letter, whose text was made public Monday, Albright repeatedly expressed regret for the embassy bombing. But she also told the Chinese authorities that they have an obligation “to ensure the safety of all Americans in China and protection of American properties.”

A simple apology is not likely to appease people such as Li Fanghui, a graduate student who skipped class to join the protests in Beijing Monday.

“You can’t just call this ‘a terrible mistake,’ ” said Li, 25, who read about Clinton’s expression of regret on the Internet. “This isn’t like kids fighting. It’s not just a matter of saying ‘Sorry.’ ”

He acknowledged that he had not fully thought out what kind of restitution the United States should make. But at the very least, those behind the bombing “should step down,” Li said.