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Exiled Uighur leader claims state crackdown


Originally published by The Irish Times , Mar 24 2011

CHINA IS intensifying a crackdown on the Uighur ethnic minority in the restive province of Xinjiang in response to uprisings against governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer has said.

“What happened in Tunisia and Egypt has strong effects on Uighur people and the Chinese people because it gives the oppressed peoples hope for a better world,” Ms Kadeer told Australia’s federal parliament.

Middle-East-inspired protests have been used as a pretext by China’s security forces for a widespread crackdown on anyone the government considers a threat to its rule, including lawyers and political activists. There have been curbs imposed on foreign reporters and increased restrictions on internet access.

Ms Kadeer, a 65-year-old US-based businesswoman, was in Australia at the invitation of two government members despite objections from China.

Beijing blames Ms Kadeer for inciting ethnic clashes in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi in 2009, leaving about 200 people dead, mostly Han Chinese. She denies the charge.

The recent overthrow of Middle Eastern governments “sent shock waves through the Chinese leadership that people’s patience could run out – people will one day rise up and challenge the authority of the regime”, she said.

China had responded to the protests with a security crackdown that made the western cities of Kashgar and Urumqi resemble war zones as soldiers searched homes and rounded up members of the Turkic-speaking Muslim minority, she said.

Ms Kadeer made her remarks as seven people allegedly involved in plotting terrorist activities were sentenced to death for robbery and murder in Xinjiang.

Uighurs account for nine million of Xinjiang’s 20 million residents and many are angry about the influx of Han Chinese and restrictions on their religion.

The landlocked province of Xinjiang has China’s second-highest oil and natural gas reserves.