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Xi Jinping takes in Lakers game before leaving from LAX

February 17, 2012 | 10:50 pm

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at Lakers game
Before catching a late-night flight to Europe, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping made one last stop in Los Angeles: Staples Center.

The presumed next president of China arrived in time to catch the fourth quarter of the Lakers game.

The Lakers are popular in China. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said Xi is "a Kobe fan."

Xi and his entourage watched the game alongside Villaraigosa and Gov. Jerry Brown from a luxury skybox owned by AEG, the company that built Staples Center. An AEG spokesman told a security guard that sports stars Magic Johnson and David Beckham would be joining them too.

The Chinese delegation has been greeted with protests by Tibetans and other groups at virtually every stop of their five-day tour of the United States. The Lakers game was no different.

One protester was evicted from the game after unfurling a banner that read, "Tibet will be free," said another activist, Dhonam Pemba. He said Tibetans had asked Lakers player Metta World Peace, a human rights supporter, to protest Xi's visit.

Xi left shortly after he arrived, while there were still six minutes left in the game.

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-- Kate Linthicum

Photo: Xi Jinping and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in a skybox at Friday night's Lakers game. Credit: Associated Press

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