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Islamic World News ( 6 Jul 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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CHINA: Muslim minorities’ uprising from the ashes of history

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau


Uighur Muslim minority clashes with police in China

At least three people were killed and more than 20 injured after an ethnic minority clashed with police in China's far north-western province of Xinjiang. (Now the figure has risen to more than 150 killed – Editor)  

 By Peter Foster in Beijing

Published: 5:12AM BST 06 Jul 2009

 Riot in Urumqi: The disturbances come after a year of rising tensions between the dominant Han Chinese authorities and the Uighur ethnic minority.

The clashes in Urumqi on Sunday night between police and a 3,000-strong crowd from the Uighur Muslim ethnic minority left burned-out cars and buses and several smashed shop-fronts.

Authorities said all traffic was cleared from the streets on Monday morning to retain order. Another witness said the city of 2.3 million, which is 2,000 miles west of Beijing, was now effectively "on lockdown".

 The disturbances come after a year of rising tensions between the dominant Han Chinese authorities and the Uighur ethnic minority - the historical majority in Xinjiang - who say they have been socially and economically marginalised by Beijing's development policies.

Witnesses said the riot began when Chinese police tried to disperse a sit-in protest calling for an investigation into the deaths of two Uighurs during a fight between Uighur and Han workers at a toy factory in Guangdong province, Southern China last month.

The riot and its suppression has echoes of clashes last March in the neighbouring province of Tibet where there are similar simmering ethnic tensions between the historic Buddhist population and Han Chinese who have migrated to the region in recent decades.

The number of dead in Sunday's riot remains unclear. The government's official Xinhua News Agency said that at least three ethnic Han Chinese were killed in the violence, but later added that "unknown number" of people were killed, including a policeman.

Two separate photographs released by Uighur rights groups operating in exile in the US and Europe appeared to show six bodies in one location and three people lying on the ground in another.

The Chinese government accused the exiled groups including the World Uyghur Congress, of fomenting the violence, a claim which was adamantly denied.

"The violence is a pre-empted, organized violent crime. It is instigated and directed from abroad and carried out by outlaws in the country," said a statement carried by Xinhua.

However Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress in exile in Sweden, blamed police heavy-handedness for the riot, saying the protests were peaceful until the authorities began to forcibly remove protesters from the city's main square.

"This anger has been growing for a long time. It began as a peaceful assembly. There were thousands of people shouting to stop ethnic discrimination, demanding an explanation ... They are tired of suffering in silence."

Adam Grode, an American Fulbright scholar studying in Urumqi, told the Associated Press that he heard explosions and also saw a few people being carried off on stretchers and a Han Chinese man with blood on his shirt entering a hospital.

He said police used tear gas, fire hoses and batons to suppress the riot as protesters knocked over police barriers and smashed bus windows.

"Every time the police showed some force, the people would jump the barriers and get back on the street. It was like a cat-and-mouse sort of game," added Mr Grode, 26.

Alim Seytoff, general secretary of the Uyghur American Association, based in Washington D.C., said police and officials were going through university dormitory rooms looking for students involved in the protest that gave way to the riot.

"Urumqi is a tightly controlled city, but the students have access to all sorts of information on the Internet," he said, "There will be a harsh crackdown, but the basic problems won't disappear."

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Chinese troops entering Xinjiang, an act which Beijing describes as a 'peaceful liberation' that brought development and economic benefits to the historically poor region which is China's gateway to Central Asia.

Uighur groups however say they have been systematically edged out of society by the influx of Han Chinese that have moved into the region to exploit Xinjiang's oil, natural gas and agricultural resources as part of Beijing 'develop the West' policy.

Last year on the eve of the Beijing Olympics Uighur separatist groups attacked a Chinese police post killing 17 police according to figures released by state media. Two men were executed for the attacks in the Silk Road city of Kashgar last April.

Beijing says that Uighur separatist groups are running terrorist cells in Xinjiang which have received training from Islamist militant groups in neighbouring Pakistan.

The Uighur issue returned to top of US-China relations last month after Washington refused to send four Uighur men released from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp back to China.

Despite Beijing's objections the men were relocated to Bermuda as US officials have said they feared the men would be executed if they were returned to China. Officials are trying to transfer 13 other released Uighurs to the Pacific nation of Palau.




 CHINA: Muslim minorities: Uprising from the ashes of history

Last Updated: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 | 9:40 AM ET

CBC News

 Chinese Muslims at a mosque in Linxia, a city known as the 'small Mecca of China.' Islamic cultural influences can be traced back nearly 1,000 years in China. In the far northwest of the country, some Muslims known as Uighurs favour greater independence. China accuses such groups of links to al-Qaeda. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

Travellers in today's China are often surprised to discover that the country has a sizeable Muslim population. According to the Chinese government, there are more than 20 million Muslims who live in all parts of the country. Others say the number may even be higher. Many Chinese towns have mosques. The call to prayer can be heard on Fridays from Beijing to Yunnan in the south, and especially in the oases of arid Xinjiang in the far northwest. But there are subtle differences among the communities that follow Islam in China — cultural, linguistic and nationalist nuances that formed over centuries of an often-troubled history. Muslims have lived in the Middle Kingdom from just after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD.

 They came as traders and missionaries from Arab states, and later from Islamic Persia and Ottoman Turkey. 1st mosque built 1,400 years ago. Tang and Song Dynasty emperors, with an eye on the riches of the Muslim world, made them welcome and even built China's first mosque in what is today the city of Guangzhou.

A mosque is seen with the moon in the background in the ancient Silk Route city of Kashgar, near China's far western border with Pakistan. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)Over the years, traders and travellers married into Han Chinese families, and settled and assimilated while keeping their Muslim faith.

Descendants of this group are contemporary China's largest Muslim group, known as Hui.

Centuries of co-existence have made many Hui people distinguishable from Han Chinese only by the practice of their faith. When decades of mandatory atheism under Mao Zedong ended in the late 1970s, many devout Hui flourished, reopening mosques and signing up for government-approved trips to Mecca.

The same wasn't true of the country's other large Muslim group, the Uighur people of Xinjiang.

Ethnically, Uighurs are Central Asian, speakers of a language related to Turkish.

They look west to the Middle East, Turkey and Tashkent, not east to Beijing.

 Like the Tibetans on their southern border, they remember when they inhabited a sovereign land and even conquered parts of past Chinese empires in battles centuries ago. On the northern branch of the historic Silk Route between Mongol China and Rome, the Uighurs traded and travelled widely and forged a distinctive local approach to Islam.

 Xinjiang named China's 'new frontier'

But the Chinese have long regarded the region as an integral part of their vast country.

A young Uighur boy waits for customers to sell Muslim caps to at a traditional bazaar in Hotan, northwest China's restive Xinjiang region. (Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press)In the 19th century, Chinese regimes cemented their authority over the Uighurs and named their ancestral lands Xinjiang, or "new frontier" in Mandarin.

Briefly, in the political chaos that engulfed China in the 1930s and early 1940s, the Uighurs declared independence under the name East Turkestan, but the victory of Mao's communists in 1949 brought them firmly back under Chinese rule.

Zealously atheist Maoists stamped out religious worship of all sorts, although Xinjiang's remoteness and cultural disconnect with Han-dominated China meant Islam survived more openly than elsewhere in the country.

But Uighur discontent with rule from Beijing intensified as the discovery of oil and mineral wealth brought migrants from all over China. The Chinese government encouraged migration with official campaigns with names like "Go West."

A surge in Han Chinese migrants

Today, there are almost as many Han Chinese as Uighur in Xinjiang.

In the 1990s, foreign media began reporting on Uighur grievances and human rights groups highlighted their cultural and religious concerns.

Lacking a charismatic leader like Tibet's Dalai Lama, the Muslims of Xinjiang found little interest in their plight in the west.

China opposed Uighur activism as vigorously as its Tibetan version, restricting Islamic teachings and cracking down hard on community leaders and others who advocated sovereignty or civil rights.

Huseyin Celil, of Burlington, Ont., was arrested in March 2006 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and extradited to China a few months later. He is currently in jail in China and China is ignoring Canada's pleas for consular access, accusing him of support for Uighur militancy. (Canadian Press)Jailed Canadian Huseyin Celil knows this only too well. He is jailed in an unknown location in China while Beijing refuses Canada's demands for consular access, calling him a wanted international terrorist whose dual citizenship is not legal. A Uighur, Celil was born in China, though he holds Canadian citizenship.

The Sept. 11 attacks gave China an opportunity to press its case that Uighur Muslim and independence leaders were affiliated to international Islamist militancy.

The authorities stamped down hard on demonstrations and civil disobedience campaigns and gave frequent news conferences, saying they had stymied plans for terror campaigns.

Experts doubt al-Qaeda links

Little evidence for this was ever presented, although China will certainly point to attacks during the Beijing Olympics as proof that Islamist Uighurs have violent aims in their independence campaign.

Most international experts on jihadist groups say whatever links exist between Uighur militants and the likes of al-Qaeda are relatively recent in origin, as much a product of the crackdown on them as anything else.

The fact is that Xinjiang is regarded by Beijing as one of China's most sensitive regions, and a place with huge economic potential.

It borders on some of the country's most important allies and has huge reserves of oil and gas.

While China may pay lip service to cultural and religious freedom, in practice it constrains those rights in the name of social harmony and increasingly, a surging economy. The state appoints religious prayer leaders and restricts the contents of their sermon to topics approved by the authorities.

For now, Uighur dreams of independence and Islam sit uneasily alongside the ambitions of a emerging superpower.


Riots in Western China amid Ethnic Tension

By Edward Wong

Associated Press

Published: July 5, 2009

BEIJING — At least 1,000 rioters clashed with the police on Sunday in a regional capital in western China after days of rising tensions between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese, according to witnesses and photographs of the riot.

The rioting broke out Sunday afternoon in a large market area of Urumqi, the capital of the vast, restive desert region of Xinjiang, and lasted for several hours before riot police officers and paramilitary or military troops locked down the Uighur quarter of the city. The rioters threw stones at the police and set vehicles on fire, sending plumes of smoke into the sky, while police officers used fire hoses and batons to beat back rioters and detain Uighurs who appeared to be leading the protest, witnesses said.

At least 3 Han Chinese and one police officer were killed in the rioting and 20 were injured, according to Xinhua, the official news agency. Dozens of Uighur men were led into police stations with their hands behind their backs and shirts pulled over their heads, one witness said. Early Monday, the local government announced a curfew banning all traffic in the city until 8 p.m.

The riot was the largest ethnic clash in China since the Tibetan uprising of March 2008, and perhaps the biggest protest in Xinjiang in years. Like the Tibetan unrest, it highlighted the deep-seated frustrations felt by some ethnic minorities in western China over the policies of the Communist Party.

Many Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim group, resent rule by the Han Chinese, and Chinese security forces have tried to keep oil-rich Xinjiang under tight control since the 1990s, when cities there were struck by waves of protests, riots and bombings. Last summer, attacks on security forces took place in several cities in Xinjiang; the Chinese government blamed separatist groups.

Early Monday, Chinese officials said the latest riots were started by Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur human rights advocate who had been imprisoned in China and now lives in Washington, Xinhua reported. As with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, Chinese officials often blame Ms. Kadeer for ethnic unrest; she denies the charges.

The clashes on Sunday began when the police confronted a protest march held by Uighurs to demand a full government investigation of a brawl between Uighur and Han workers that erupted in Guangdong Province overnight on June 25 and June 26. The brawl took place in a toy factory and left 2 Uighurs dead and 118 people injured. The police later arrested a bitter ex-employee of the factory who had ignited the fight by starting a rumour that 6 Uighur men had raped 2 Han women at the work site, Xinhua reported.

There was also a rumour circulating on Sunday in Urumqi that a Han man had killed a Uighur in the city earlier in the day, said Adam Grode, an English teacher living in the neighbourhood where the rioting took place.

“This is just crazy,” Mr. Grode said by telephone Sunday night. “There was a lot of tear gas in the streets, and I almost couldn’t get back to my apartment. There’s a huge police presence.”

Mr. Grode said he saw a few Han civilians being harassed by Uighurs. Rumours of Uighurs attacking Han Chinese spread quickly through parts of Urumqi, adding to the panic. A worker at the Texas Restaurant, a few hundred yards from the site of the rioting, said her manager had urged the restaurant workers to stay inside. Xinhua reported few details of the riot on Sunday night. It said that “an unknown number of people gathered Sunday afternoon” in Urumqi, “attacking passers-by and setting fire to vehicles.”

Uighurs are the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang but are a minority in Urumqi, where Han Chinese make up more than 70 percent of the population of two million or so. The Chinese government has encouraged Han migration to the city and other parts of Xinjiang, fuelling resentment among the Uighurs. Urumqi is a deeply segregated city, with Han Chinese there rarely venturing into the Uighur quarter.

 The Uighur neighbourhood is centred in a warren of narrow alleyways, food markets and a large shopping area called the Grand Bazaar or the Erdaoqiao Market, where the rioting reached its peak on Sunday.

Mr. Grode, who lives in an apartment there, said he went outside when he first heard commotion around 6 p.m. He saw hundreds of Uighurs in the streets; that quickly swelled to more than 1,000, he said.

Police officers soon arrived. Around 7 p.m., protesters began hurling rocks and vegetables from the market at the police, Mr. Grode said. Traffic had ground to a halt. An hour later, as the riot surged toward the centre of the market, troops in green uniforms and full riot gear showed up, as did armoured vehicles. Chinese government officials often deploy the People’s Armed Police, a paramilitary force, to quell riots.

By midnight, Mr. Grode said, some of the armoured vehicles had begun to leave, but bursts of gunfire could still be heard.

Huang Yuanxi contributed research.