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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

In China, Uighurs' Ambitions Stir

April 5, 2008

By GORDON FAIRCLOUGH
Wall Street Journal
April 3, 2008;

SHANGHAI -- Antigovernment unrest in China that began among Tibetans
appears to be inspiring protests by members of another large group,
Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim people who live in a northwestern border
province.

On March 23, a group of Uighurs in the sprawling Sunday bazaar in the
city of Hotan, in Xinjiang province, made speeches and handed out fliers
promoting protests for Xinjiang independence, authorities there said.

Police moved in quickly and arrested the activists, according to a
statement by the Hotan regional government.

The statement said "a small number" of people "tried to incite
splittism, create disturbances in the marketplace and even trick the
masses into an uprising."

Fu Chao, an official with the regional government's administrative
office, said the protesters "want to echo the things in Lhasa," Tibet's
provincial capital. "Their purposes are for Tibet independence and
Xinjiang independence," he said, adding that protesters in Hotan had
banners urging Uighurs to "establish a caliphate."

The Tibet demonstrations began in Lhasa on March 10 and spread to parts
of other provinces with substantial Tibetan populations. Many of the
grievances Tibetans have with the central government are shared by
Uighurs, and Tibet shares a long border with Xinjiang.

Around Hotan, police had set up checkpoints and were searching cars even
before the March 23 incident. The day before it occurred, members of
China's ethnic-Han majority population living in the city had been
warned of possible unrest and many closed their shops for the weekend,
local residents said.

Uighurs, who are the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang, have long chafed
at restrictions on their religious practices and civil rights imposed by
China's government, which has sought to quell political dissent in the
strategically important province. The province covers one-sixth of
Chinese territory.

Relations between Uighurs and the large numbers of Han people who began
flowing into the region after Chinese Communist forces took over in 1949
have also been strained, with Uighurs complaining they aren't sharing
equally in economic growth.

Since the Tibet protests began, Uighur activist groups outside China
have sought to draw attention to human-rights abuses against Uighurs in
Xinjiang.

"The world community cannot turn a blind eye to the obstinate refusal of
the Beijing regime to fully engage in open, serious, and meaningful
negotiations with leaders of Tibet and East Turkistan," said Rebiya
Kadeer, president of the Uyghur American Association, in a statement
last month.

Uighur activists often refer to Xinjiang as East Turkistan, a
onetime-independent republic declared by Uighurs and members of other
ethnic groups. It existed in the area from 1933 to 1934 and again from
1944 to 1949, when Chinese Communist troops moved in.

Ms. Kadeer, a Uighur human-rights advocate jailed for more than five
years by the Chinese, has become a rallying figure for Uighur groups in
the West. She lives in exile in Washington.

Over the years since Chinese Communist authorities began administering
Xinjiang -- an important oil-producing region for China -- the area has
experienced periods of serious unrest. Most recently, Chinese police say
a Muslim separatist group was behind a failed attempt to hijack a
Chinese jetliner earlier this year. In February, Chinese police said
they killed two men and arrested 15 others in a raid on a meeting of
alleged "terrorists" near the provincial capital, Urumqi.

In the March 23 incident -- nine days after protests in Tibet turned
violent -- police rapidly silenced protesters, Mr. Fu said. "If it
hadn't been controlled so quickly, it could have developed into a more
serious case," he said.

One Uighur resident of Hotan said that fliers being handed out at the
market that day said that Uighurs should mobilize and follow the example
of Tibetans. Almost as soon as the protesters started speaking,
paramilitary police of the People's Armed Police Force sealed off
entrances to the bazaar, witnesses said.

Write to Gordon Fairclough at gordon.fairclough@wsj.com
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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