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US basketball league star triggers storm as he denounces Xi Jinping and backs freedom for Tibet

Enes Kanter posted a video on his Twitter account on Wednesday, spoke for more than two minutes in support of Tibetan independence

NBA star Enes Kanter on Wednesday triggered tensions between Beijing and the US basketball league as he denounced Chinese President Xi Jinping as a "brutal dictator" and backed the independence of Tibet.

The news was widely reported in the US press including papers like the Washington Post.

"Dear Brutal Dictator XI JINPING and the Chinese Government. Tibet belongs to the Tibetan people!" Boston Celtics player Kanter said in a message posted on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

In a video posted on his Twitter account on Wednesday, Kanter spoke for more than two minutes in support of Tibetan independence, a stance that is illegal in China.

“Brutal dictator of China, Xi Jinping, I have a message for you and your henchmen,” he said in the video. “Free Tibet, free Tibet, free Tibet.” He was wearing a T-shirt featuring an image of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whom Beijing has termed a dangerous separatist.

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China had seized Tibet by force in 1951 forcing its spiritual head the Dalai Lama to flee the country. Human rights campaigners and exiles have accused China of religious repression, torture, forced sterilization and cultural erosion through forced re-education.

China, where the NBA is one of the most popular sports leagues, was quick to hit back.  The Tencent Sports app, upcoming NBA games are marked for live broadcast, except the games for the Celtics and 76ers, which will be reported only by text and photo. 

Global brands including the NBA have in recent years been consumed by PR crises and faced financial repercussions in China after touching politically sensitive subjects.

In 2019, Chinese broadcasters dropped the league after Daryl Morey, then general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted a message of support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

When asked about Kanter's comments, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said: "His ridiculous allegation is not even worth refuting."

"We welcome all friends from all countries to visit Tibet without prejudice and with an objective stance," Wang Wenbin said during a regular press conference.