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China clampdown for Olympic torch in Xinjiang: residents, exiles

June 16, 2008

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
June 15, 2008

KASHGAR, China (AFP) -- China has tightened controls on Muslims in
its remote west ahead of the Olympic torch's arrival next week to
thwart any actions aimed at disrupting the relay, residents and exiles said.

The measures include detaining thousands in the Xinjiang region and
forcing Muslim religious officials to undergo "political education"
on "protecting" the Olympics, said Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the
Germany-based World Uighur Congress.

With the Beijing Olympic torch expected in Xinjiang on its nationwide
tour, authorities have also confiscated the passports of some
Muslims, Uighurs told AFP.

"They are afraid people might travel abroad and join some sort of
plot against the Olympics," said a college-educated Uighur woman in
her twenties, whose passport was taken by police here earlier this year.

The woman, whose name was withheld by AFP to protect her from police
reprisals, was forced to cancel plans to attend graduate school overseas.

Calls to police and government officials in the Xinjiang capital
Urumqi went unanswered at the weekend.

Beijing says it faces a separatist Muslim terror threat in Xinjiang,
a vast region of deserts and stunning mountain ranges which is home
to more than eight million Uighurs, a Central Asian people who have
long chafed under Chinese control.

In recent months China has said several Xinjiang-based terror plots
have been smashed, including some specifically aimed at the August
8-24 Olympics.

Uighurs dismiss such claims as political cover for what they call
decades of repression and policies aimed at extinguishing their culture.

Exile groups say thousands of Uighurs have been rounded up in the
run-up to the Olympics.

"(The crackdown) is intended to prevent Uighurs from telling foreign
reporters and visitors the truth of their suffering," Rebiya Kadeer,
head of the Uighur American Association, told AFP last month.

Beijing Olympic organisers recently said the sensitive Xinjiang torch
leg would take place June 17-19, a week earlier than planned. It
originally was to transit the capital Urumqi, Kashgar, and two other cities.

However, Olympic officials last week would not disclose up-to-date
plans to AFP amid confusion surrounding sensitive relay legs
following violent unrest in Tibet in March that laid bare simmering
discontent in China's minority regions.

A stage was set up near Kashgar's main mosque, apparently for torch
ceremonies, but residents said there had been no new announcement on
when the flame would arrive.

China has blamed the confusion on schedule changes caused by the May
12 Sichuan earthquake.

Raxit said Muslims in Kashgar have also been ordered to avoid any
contact with foreigners, report any overseas journalists operating in
the area and sign pledges denouncing separatism and supporting Beijing.

Thousands of Muslims who were not residents of Kashgar and Urumqi
also had been forced to leave those cities, he said.

"The Chinese Communists have enslaved the Uighurs politically. The
Uighurs have lost all rights," he told AFP.

Activity in Kashgar, an oasis city on the ancient Silk Road, appeared
normal at the weekend, with skull-capped Muslim men quietly streaming
in and out of the Id Kah mosque. There was no obvious police presence.

Several Uighurs told AFP they welcomed the torch and disputed
suggestions anyone would try to disrupt it.

"The Olympic torch has never been to our city. We are very proud,"
said a Kashgar taxi driver named Yusup.

The crackdown triggered an attack with rocks and petrol bombs by
Uighurs on a police station in the town of Sangong in late May, Raxit
said previously.

Local police confirmed the attack when contacted by AFP, but refused
further comment.
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