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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."

The Real Story of the Uighur Riots

July 8, 2009

Heavy-handed police tactics by the Chinese turned a peaceful assembly into a
bloodbath.

By REBIYA KADEER

July 7, 2009

When the Chinese government looks back on its handling of the unrest in
Urumqi and East Turkestan this week, it will most likely tell the world that
it acted in the interests of maintaining stability. It will most likely
forget to explain why thousands of Uighurs risked everything to speak out
against injustice, or why hundreds of Uighurs are now dead for exercising
their right to protest.

On Sunday, students organized a protest in the Döng Körük (Erdaoqiao) area
of Urumqi. They wished to express discontent with the Chinese authorities'
inaction on the mob killing and beating of Uighurs at a toy factory in
Shaoguan in China's southern Guangdong province and to express sympathy with
the families of those killed and injured.

A peaceful assembly turned violent as some elements of the crowd reacted to
heavy-handed policing. I unequivocally condemn the use of violence by
Uighurs during the demonstration as much as I do China's use of excessive
force against protestors.

Wang Lequan, party secretary of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, has
blamed me for the unrest. However, it is years of Chinese repression of
Uighurs -- topped by further confirmation that Chinese officials have no
interest in observing the rule of law -- that is the cause of the current
Uighur discontent.

China's brutal reaction to Sunday's protest will only reinforce these views.
Uighur sources within East Turkestan say 400 Uighurs in Urumqi have died as
a result of police shootings and beatings. There is no accurate figure for
the number of injured.

A curfew has been imposed, telephone lines are down, and the city remains
tense. Uighurs have contacted me to report that the Chinese authorities are
conducting a house-to-house search of Uighur homes and are arresting male
Uighurs. They say that Uighurs are afraid to walk the streets in the capital
of their homeland.

The unrest is spreading. The cities of Kashgar, Yarkand, Aksu, Khotan and
Karamay may have also seen unrest, though it's hard to tell, given China's
state-run propaganda. Kashgar has been the worst effected of these cities
and unconfirmed reports state that over 100 Uighurs have been killed there.
Troops have entered Kashgar, and sources in the city say that two Chinese
soldiers have been posted to each Uighur house.

The recent Uighur repression has taken on a racial tone. The Chinese
government is known for encouraging a nationalistic streak among Han Chinese
as it seeks to replace the bankrupt communist ideology it used to promote.
This nationalism was in evidence as the Han Chinese mob attacked Uighur
workers in Shaoguan.

This official encouragement of reactionary nationalism among Han Chinese
makes the path forward very difficult. The World Uighur Congress that I
head, much like the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan movement, advocates peaceful
establishment of self-determination with genuine respect for human rights
and democracy. Han Chinese and Uighurs need to achieve a dialogue based on
trust, mutual respect and equality. Under present Chinese government
policies, this is not possible.

To rectify the deteriorating situation in East Turkestan, the Chinese
government must first properly investigate the Shaoguan killings and bring
those responsible for the killing of Uighurs to justice. An independent and
open inquiry into the Urumqi unrest also needs to be conducted so that Han
Chinese and Uighurs can understand the reasons for Sunday's events and seek
ways to establish understanding.

The United States has a key role to play in this process. It has always
spoken out on behalf of the oppressed; this is why it has been been a leader
in presenting the Uighur case to the Chinese government. At this critical
juncture, the U.S. must condemn the violence in Urumqi and establish a
consulate in Urumqi. A consulate can act as a beacon of freedom in an
environment of fierce repression and monitor the daily human-rights abuses
perpetrated against the Uighurs.

As I write this piece, reports are reaching our office in Washington that
4,000 Han Chinese took to the streets in Urumqi on Monday seeking revenge by
carrying out acts of violence against Uighurs. On Tuesday, more Han Chinese
took to the streets. As the violence escalates, so does the pain I feel for
the loss of all innocent lives. I fear the Chinese government will not
experience this pain as it reports on its version of events in Urumqi. It is
this lack of self-examination that further divides Han Chinese and Uighurs.

Ms. Kadeer is the president of the World Uighur Congress and author of
"Dragon Fighter: One Woman's Epic Struggle for Peace with China" (Kales
Press, 2009).
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