NEW YORK — Red and yellow lights shone from the top of the Empire State Building at dusk Wednesday, a tribute to communist China's 60th anniversary that protesters labeled "blatant approval" of totalitarianism and criticized as inappropriate for an icon in the land of the free.
The building is routinely lit with different colors to mark holidays and big events, but opponents questioned whether it's right to commemorate a sensitive political issue, particularly when China has such a poor human rights record.
About 20 supporters of Tibet, which China has ruled since shortly after communists took over in 1949, protested outside the building during a ceremonial lighting of a scale model inside the lobby. They chanted "No to China's empire; free Tibet now," and held signs reading, "Empire State Building celebrating 60 years of China's oppression."
Lhadon Tethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, called the lighting "outright, blatant approval for a communist totalitarian system."
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"It's a great public relations coup for the Chinese state," Tethong said as tourists gawked at the protesters. "But on the other hand, it's sure to backfire because the American public and the global public will speak against it."
At the lobby ceremony, building manager Joseph Bellina called the lights a high honor and said he was proud of the relationship between "our countries and our people."
Chinese Consul General Peng Keyu, who pulled the switch on the glass-encased model, said he was "honored and delighted."
He said China's reforms of the past 30 years have led to greater openness and "tremendous change."
Keyu and Bellina didn't address critics and declined to answer questions.