Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Protest marks Xinjiang 'massacre'
Protest marks Xinjiang 'massacre'
Uighur activists accuse China of committing "cultural genocide" in Xinjiang [GALLO/GETTY]
Dozens of exiled Uighur Muslims have protested outside China’s embassy in Washington DC on the 10th anniversary of a massacre that some say was on a similar scale to events in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Protesters waved Uighur flags and chanted slogans calling on China to account for the many people they say were killed on February 5, 1997.
Human rights group say hundreds, possibly thousands, were killed and injured when police broke up a demonstration in the city of Gulja in China’s Xinjiang region.
Speaking at Monday's protest, Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled Uighur leader, said China continued to brutally oppress the Uighur people.
She said China had done nothing to explain the events at Gulja, now known as Yining, and some 8,000 there had "disappeared without a trace."
"Ten years have passed but the Chinese authorities have still not accounted for the innocent lives lost and those missing following the Gulja massacre," she said
Amnesty International: Rebiya Kadeer's personal account of Gulja after the massacre
"What is worse is China continues to oppress our people."
Kadeer, formerly a successful Xinjiang-based businesswoman, was jailed by China for passing on state secrets.
She was released into exile in the US in 2005 after serving five years of an eight year sentence.
She has accused China of committing "cultural genocide" against the Uighur people as it seeks to develop the rich energy and mineral resources in the vast western region of Xinjiang.
Xinjiang and the Uighurs
Xinjiang is officially an autonomous region
Has large reserves of oil, gas and minerals
Formerly a key area on the ancient Silk Road linking China to Europe
Beijing sees Xinjiang as gateway to resource-rich Central Asia
Turkic speaking Uighur population numbers around 8 million
Uighur activists say migration from other parts of China is part of official effort to dilute Uighur culture in their own land
Uighur separatists have staged series of low-level attacks since early 1990s
China says Uighur separatists are terrorists and linked to al-Qaeda
According to Amnesty International, hundreds if not thousands of people were killed or seriously injured in the Gulja crackdown after police moved to break up a peaceful demonstration by Uighurs in the city.
T. Kumar, Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific advocacy director, said many of those arrested were beaten and tortured, and dozens remain unaccounted for.
"No-one has been held accountable to this massacre and we are calling on the international community to take steps to investigate this abuse and other abuses against the Uighurs," he told AFP.
Xinjiang had a brief period of independence in the 1940s as the Republic of East Turkestan, before it became part of the People’s Republic of China.
Since the early 1990s there have been a spate of small-scale attacks blamed on violent Uighur separatist groups.
Beijing says the attacks stem from a rise in separatist sentiment in the region, fuelled by radical Islam linked to al-Qaeda.
But Uighur activists such as Rebiya Kadeer says such attacks come from only a tiny minority and most Uighurs want simply to have the right to practice their religions and customs freely.
They say China has used the attacks and its support for the US-led war on terror as a justification for suppressing Uighur culture, particularly the practice of Islam.
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