Uighurs fear fresh ‘crackdown’ as police arrest Tiananmen suspects

Uighurs fear fresh ‘crackdown’ as police arrest Tiananmen suspects

BEIJING - Agence France-Presse
Uighurs fear fresh ‘crackdown’ as police arrest Tiananmen suspects

Chinese paramilitary police march on a sidewalk near the site of an incident where a car plowed through a crowd. AP Photo

An overseas Uighur rights group fears a “fierce state crackdown” by China on the largely Muslim ethnic minority as police in Beijing detained five suspects after a vehicle burst into flames in Tiananmen Square.

The statement from the World Uighur Congress, which Beijing considers a separatist group, came one day after state-run media reported Chinese authorities had named eight suspects from the restive far western region of Xinjiang following the incident. A sport utility vehicle ploughed through crowds at the capital’s best-known site, killing five people, including three in the car and a woman tourist from the Philippines, and wounding 38. The state described the incident as a terror attack on Oct. 30.

“Today, I fear for the future of East Turkestan and the Uighur people more than I ever have,” World Uyghur Congress President Rebiya Kadeer said in a statement issued from Washington.

East Turkestan is the name which the activist organization uses to refer to Xinjiang, where Uighurs, many of whom are Muslim, make up 46 percent of the population. The group added that it fears the response by authorities in Beijing will “lead to further demonization of the Uighur people and incite a fierce state crackdown” in Xinjiang. “The Chinese government will not hesitate to concoct a version of the incident in Beijing, so as to further impose repressive measures on the Uighur people,” Kadeer said.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities announced that five suspects in the fatal car crash were detained.

“The arrests were made 10 hours after the incident, which has now been identified as a terrorist attack,” broadcaster CCTV said on its verified English-language microblog account. CCTV said the three people in the car, all of whom died, were from the same family, and another five people had been arrested in connection with the case.

Police had alerted hotels in the capital to look out for eight suspects from Xinjiang region after the incident.

Kadeer’s Turkey ties

The suspects appeared mostly to be from China’s mainly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, who are concentrated in far-western Xinjiang, and the names CCTV gave for the three people in the vehicle appeared to be Uighur. Chinese media have released few reports about the attack, while online accounts have been quickly censored. In the April of 2012, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become the first Turkish prime minister to visit the autonomous Uighur region of Xinjiang. Turkey shares linguistic and religious links with the Uighur community.

The region’s Muslim population, which shares ethnic bonds with Turkey, has long complained of oppression. Ankara accepts China’s sovereignty over Xinjiang, but heavily criticized the 2009 violence in the region. Erdoğan described the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang as “almost genocide” in 2009. China blamed the ethnic unrest on Uighurs, particularly Rebiya Kadeer, who is based in the United States. Kadeer praised Turkey for condemning China for a crackdown targeting Uighurs, saying China was using its economic power to keep the world from seriously reacting to the Xinjiang incidents.

Kadeer was denied a Turkish visa in 2006 and 2007. In 2009, amid the Chinese crackdown, Erdoğan said if Kadeer were to apply for a visa, Turkey would provide it.

Beijing has pointed to violent incidents in Xinjiang as evidence of rising extremism among the ethnic minority, but information in the far western region is tightly controlled and Uighur organisations complain of repression. Police have arrested at least 139 people in Xinjiang in recent months for allegedly spreading jihad.