PRAGUE (AP) — China's president signed a strategic partnership with the Czech Republic during a visit Tuesday that was marked by official honors and public protests in a country that was once a critic of China's human rights record.
Xi Jinping, who was greeted with a rare 21 salvos of artillery at the Prague Castle, the seat of the presidency, signed the document Tuesday together with his host, President Milos Zeman.
The partnership "sets a political direction for the development of our relations in the future," he said through a translator.
Xi's visit — his only stopover in Europe before flying to the U.S. — is a result of a more business-oriented Czech approach to China than the one that prevailed under the late President Vaclav Havel, a prominent proponent of human rights.
Zeman was the only European Union leader to attend China's celebrations of the end of World War II last year and said he hoped his country becomes "an entry gate" for China to the European Union.
He said business deals to be signed during Xi's visit could bring some 95 billion koruna ($3.9 billion) of Chinese investment this year. Details were expected to be announced Wednesday.
Xi also backed a series of other deals on cooperation in health, transport, IT, sciences, tourism, banking and other fields as well a partnership deal between the countries' capitals.
He was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and other officials later Tuesday.
Not everyone was happy with his visit.
Several supporters of the Falun Gong group that has been banned in China were in the streets of Prague on Tuesday morning, while hundreds waving Tibetan flags gathered to protest China's human rights record.
Riot police separated the protesters from dozens of Chinese supporters with giant Chinese flags before they marched through the city for another protest rally near the Prague Castle.
Police said they had to deal with several skirmishes between the protesters and the Chinese supporting the president. Police spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova said 2 foreign citizens were detained.
In the evening, a mass for the victims of the Chinese communist regime was scheduled to be served in a Catholic church in Prague.