Elton John dedicates his Beijing show to Ai Weiwei

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Elton John dedicates his Beijing show to Ai Weiwei

Pop-rock balladeer Elton John dedicated his Beijing show to Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei - a controversial move the artist said Monday was unlikely to make the nation’s cultural minders happy.

After Icelandic singer Bjork chanted “Tibet, Tibet” at a 2008 concert in Shanghai, authorities refused permits for numerous Western acts to perform in China for years.

Concert-goers said John told his audience of more than 12,000 Sunday at the Wukesong arena, built to host the basketball tournament at the Beijing Olympics, that the show was dedicated to Ai.

“I met him before the show, he didn’t say anything about it,” Ai said. “When he did it, it was a big surprise.” The Ministry of Culture, he added, “is probably not too happy about this, but there is not much that they can do about it. He is a very popular singer who has a lot of influence.”

Ai, 55, is a world-renowned conceptual artist and outspoken critic of China’s communist government. He disappeared into police custody for 81 days last year, drawing worldwide headlines and casting a spotlight on the government’s growing concern over social unrest, especially as “Arab spring” street protests rocked the Middle East.

After being released, he was convicted of tax evasion, fined $2.4 million by the Beijing tax bureau and prohibited from leaving the country for one year.

He has described such treatment as the government’s way of quelling his social activism and efforts to protest a wide range of alleged official abuse.

It was unclear whether John’s public support for Ai would have consequences for other Western acts hoping to perform in China.

John is scheduled to return to China next week to play a concert in Guangzhou after shows in Korea, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

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