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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Nato apologises to Beijing

A sombre mood prevails in Beijing

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder says he has made a formal apology to China on behalf of Nato and Germany for the alliance's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

Kosovo: Special Report
Mr Schröder, on a one-day trip to Beijing, is the first leader of a Nato country to visit China since the alliance attacked the embassy in what it called a "tragic mistake".

Not long after Mr Schröder's arrival, a plane landed in Beijing carrying the remains of the three people who died in the attack, as well as the 20 people who were injured.

The German delegation had been due to stay for four days in Beijing but this was scaled down to 16 hours because of the embassy attack.

After talks with China's Prime Minister, Zhu Rongji, and Foreign Minister, Tang Jiaxuan, Mr Schröder said that he felt his expressions of sympathy had been understood.

Mr Schröder said he had told the Chinese prime minister the bombing was "a tragic accident and nothing else".

For his part, Zhu Rongji indicated the apology had been "taken on board", Mr Schröder said.

Deep divide

The German chancellor, travelling in his capacity as current holder of the rotating European Union Presidency, was later set to meet Chinese President Jiang Zemin before returning home.

The BBC's Duncan Hewitt reports: Mr Schröder's words were carefully chosen
Mr Schröder said the two sides had been very much in agreement that the proposals discussed at last week's G8 meeting could be a solid basis for a political solution to the Yugoslav crisis.

However he acknowledged the deep divide between the two sides over China's demand for an end to Nato air strikes as a precondition for negotiations.

Mr Schröder said he hoped the positions of the two sides would get closer in the coming weeks.

Prime Minister Zhu Rongji reiterated China's outrage at the attack, but said he welcomed Mr Schröder's visit and expressed hope that the Chancellor would be able to make a full state visit, as originally planned, in the near future.

[ image: Mr Schröder said Zhu Rongji had taken the apology on board]
Mr Schröder said Zhu Rongji had taken the apology on board
Foreign Minister Tang said that an apology was insufficient, according to the Xinhua news agency.

"The Chinese government has every reason to demand a comprehensive, thorough and in-depth investigation into the incident and affix the responsibility for it," he was quoted as saying.

Mr Schröder's visit came after China appeared to soften its opposition to the UN peace plan for Kosovo until Nato had made amends for its blunder in Belgrade.

China submitted new proposals to the Security Council, saying it "strongly deplores" the bombing, and dropping an earlier demand for an official UN investigation and for those responsible to be punished.

Grief not anger

Flags flew at half-mast on government buildings in Beijing to mark the arrival of the flight carrying the casualties and the dead from Belgrade.

[ image: Flags were lowered in Beijing]
Flags were lowered in Beijing
The plane was met by a high-level delegation and a guard of honour. The event was covered by the official Chinese media and foreign media were excluded.

Relatives carried pictures of those who died - Shao Yunhuan, Xu Xinghu, and Zhu Ying - all of whom were journalists for Xinhua news agency.

A BBC correspondent says the mood in Beijing has turned from one of anger and hostility towards Nato, to one of grief.

For the first time since anti-Nato protests began in Beijing, US Ambassador James Sasser was able to venture out of his embassy, no longer besieged by angry demonstrators.

The national flags of both the US and UK were also flying at half-mast on Wednesday as a mark of respect for the embassy dead.

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