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Latte In The Forbidden City

Managers of China's vast Forbidden City palace are deciding whether to close a Starbucks outlet on its grounds after protests led by a state TV personality, a news report said Thursday.

The Forbidden City, built in 1420, is a 178-acre complex of villas, chapels and gardens that was home to 24 emperors before the end of imperial rule in 1911. It is China's top tourist attraction, drawing some 7 million visitors a year.

"The museum is working with Starbucks to find a solution by this June in response to the protests," the official Xinhua News Agency quoted a palace spokesman, Feng Nai'en, as saying.

A news anchor for China Central Television has led an online campaign to remove Starbucks, which opened in the palace in 2000 at the invitation of its managers, who are under pressure to raise money to maintain the vast complex.

The anchorman, Rui Chenggang, wrote in a CCTV blog that Starbucks' presence "undermined the Forbidden City's solemnity and trampled over Chinese culture."

Starbucks Corp. defended the operation of its palace outlet.

"Starbucks appreciates the deep history and culture of the Forbidden City and has operated in a respectful manner that fits within the environment," the company said in a written statement.

"We have provided a welcome place of rest for thousands of tourists, both Chinese and foreign, for more than six years."

A Starbucks spokesman, Roger Sun, said he could not confirm whether the palace and the company were discussing possibly closing the outlet or give other information.

Feng said the decision will be made as part of a palace renovation that already has seen one-third of its shops removed.

"Whether or not Starbucks remains depends on the entire design plan that will be released in the first half of the year," he said.

The renovation, due to last through 2020, is meant to restore the palace to its imperial-era appearance. Plans call for tearing down a five-story museum and other modern buildings that disrupt the original layout.

CCTV reported on the controversy Thursday on its national midday news, though it failed to mention that the protests were initiated by one of its own employees. The report quoted an unidentified Chinese visitor as saying tourists found it odd that Starbucks was in the palace.

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