x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Turkey urges Chinese government to take action over violence

The Turkish prime minister calls the Chinese leadership spectators in a "kind a genocide" of Uighur Muslims.

BEIJING // Turkey's prime minister called the Chinese leadership spectators in a "kind a genocide" of Uighur Muslims, killed in the ethnic violence that has gripped China's north-west Xinjiang region. "There is no other way of commenting on this event," Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Turkey's capital, Ankara, on Friday.

"There are atrocities there, hundreds of people have been killed and 1,000 hurt. We have difficulty understanding how China's leadership can remain a spectator in the face of these events," he said urging the Chinese leadership to "address the question of human rights and do what is necessary to prosecute the guilty". Mr Erdogan's condemnation of the unrest follows calls from Turkish trade and industry minister, Nihat Ergun, for Turks to boycott Chinese goods.

Protests have been staged daily in Turkey, the mostly Muslim nation which has a cultural bond with Uighurs. The Chinese leadership is yet to release a response to the Turkish prime minister's comments. Turkey's leaders have reacted strongly to claims that the Ottoman Empire's massacres of Armenians should be branded as a genocide. State media reported that the death toll from the violence had risen from 156 to 184 in Xinjiang and have released statistics detailing the ethnicity and sex of the victims of the riots.

According to Xinhua, the official news agency, 137 of the dead, including 111 men and 26 women, were Han Chinese, China's predominant ethnic group, which outnumber Urumqi in much of the region. Forty-six of the dead were members the Uighur ethnic group, while state media reported that one member of the Hui Muslim group, a minority that has cultural ties with the Han Chinese, was killed in the unrest.

The latest statistics failed to provide details on the nature or timings of the deaths. Hospital staff in Urumqi reported that Uighur who died from Han Chinese vengeance attacks were not being added to the death toll. International Uighur representatives claim the number of dead is much higher than figures released. Rebiya Kadeer, a US-based Uighur exile, who the Chinese authorities hold directly responsible for the riots, claimed the death toll is as high as 500 and has accused the government of covering up the number of dead.

Thousands of anti-riot troops carrying automatic weapons continued to patrol the streets of Urumqi yesterday. Security closed streets and closely monitored Uighur districts. Urumqi was placed under night-time curfew on Friday for the second time since last week's riots to try to contain the violence that took to the streets a week ago. The release of the statistics did little to curb tensions in the city.

"That's the Han people's number. We have our own number," a Uighur identifying himself as Akumjia, told Reuters. "Maybe many, many more Uighur died. The police were scared and lost control," he said. "This [new number] at least shows that the victims weren't only Han people," Zhao Hong, a Han resident told Reuters. "Uighurs also died. But then they blame Han for being so angry about the killing and looting."

The large show of force has brought some security to residents. But there remained distrust between Han and Uighur. The cause of the riots is still disputed. Uighur representatives said that armed security opened fire on peaceful protests. Groups of Uighur and Han Chinese both see themselves as the victims of the violence that ripped through the streets on July 5. Thousands have been reportedly fleeing the regional capital in search of safety.

"Urumqi is still open," said one student by text message travelling to Xinjiang from Beijing by train. "My family are safe," she said. The bustle of many businesses has returned to the streets, but it is the armed troops which are preventing continued unrest. Paramilitary vehicles blared orders through loudspeaker in Uighur neighbourhoods yesterday telling Muslims to stay home to worship because of the "complicated situation".

Small groups of Uighur Muslims protested on Friday after officials posted notices and padlocked mosques in the city preventing them from honouring their most holy day. The riots in Urumqi erupted a week ago when demonstrators took to the streets in protest to ethnic violence which killed two Uighur in south China last month following rumours that factory workers had raped two Han Chinese girls. The riots in the resource-rich region forced Hu Jintao, the president, to abandon plans to attend the G8 summit in Italy. The unrest is comparable to unrest in Tibet last March.

Both are politically sensitive regions where the Chinese government blames external influences on the unrest, while playing down ethnic tension. Beijing has blamed what it calls the Dalai Lama clique for the uprising 18 months ago in Lhasa. Officials are using increasingly strong language to denounce Ms Kadeer, linking her to the violence in Urumqi. "If Kadeer and the separatist 'World Uighur Congress' wanted to take ethnic relations as an excuse to sabotage China's unification, we must be vigilant and firmly crush their plot," Ismail Amat, a former official in Xinjiang told Xinhua news.

"How can such a person represent the Uighur people?" he said. @Email:dvincent@thenational.ae