Chinese president visiting Germany

Chinese President Hu Jintao began a four-day visit to Germany Thursday focused on expanding economic links between Europe's largest economy and fast-growing China. Hu arrived on Thursday afternoon in Berlin, where he was received by German President Horst Koehler. Hu was to dine later with business leaders; talks with outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as well as his designated successor, Angela Merkel were slated for Friday.

Koehler greeted Hu with military honors at his Charlottenburg palace. while two small groups of protesters demonstrated outside, one with a banner calling "For human rights, right now!" After their talks, Koehler praised China's economic progress and increasing openness to the rest of the world, saying it had lifted millions of people from poverty.

Hu's talks with Schroeder and Merkel were to focus on strengthening bilateral ties, including business ties.

In advance, German industrial conglomerate Siemens AG said Thursday it signed a contract with Chinese officials to build 60 high-speed trains for the country along with a Chinese partner. Siemens said its part of the deal was worth Ђ669 million (US$787 million). China is already Germany's biggest trade partner in Asia, while Germany is China's biggest European investor.

It appeared unlikely that German officials would raise the European Union's arms embargo in force against China since 1989.

The embargo "will certainly not be in the foreground of the talks, if it is addressed at all" Thomas Steg, a spokesman for Schroeder, said Monday.

Friedbert Pflueger form Merkel's Christian Democrats said lifting the embargo was "not on the agenda." Merkel's government will maintain "continuity" in relations with China, Pflueger told The Associated Press.

Schroeder, a Social Democrat, and French President Jacques Chirac have argued for the end of the EU arms embargo, saying isolating China could be counterproductive. The EU has said relaxing the ban depends on China's human rights record. A.M.

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