China Says Controls Tightened On Muslims In Remote West

KASHGAR, China: Chinese authorities Friday announced stepped-up controls on religious figures and potential “trouble-makers” in the Muslim city of Kashgar to guard against attacks on the Beijing Olympics.

The order by the Kashgar government followed a deadly attack that killed 16 police officers and a new threat by separatists from China’s far northwest Xinjiang region to attack the Games.

“The Kashgar government at all levels has taken a series of measures to prevent and strike down any trouble,” said an announcement on the government’s website.

“To ensure stability, (authorities) have strengthened controls on non-residents to root out trouble, stepped up controls on key people, religious figures and trouble-making petitioners to stay abreast of things,” it said.

The announcement gave no further details and did not specify what “key people” meant. China has already launched a nationwide effort to halt people petitioning the government over various grievances during the Games.

It said the measures were taken in the wake of Monday’s attack and aimed at ensuring Olympic “stability”.

China has blamed Monday’s attack, in which two men struck a group of police officers with a truck and assaulted them with explosives and knives, on Islamic separatists. Another 16 policemen were wounded.

Adding to the tensions in Xinjiang, a Uighur separatist group on Thursday issued a new video threatening attacks on planes and ground transport at the Beijing Olympics, a Washington-based intelligence monitoring group said.

IntelCenter said the threat was issued by the Turkestan Islamic Party, a Muslim organisation seeking an independent Uighur state in Xinjiang.

However, there was no obvious heightened security presence in Kashgar on Friday, just hours before the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing, and activity appeared normal in the 2,000-year-old Silk Road outpost.

Ethnic Uighur bakers pulled steaming hot trays of bagels from streetside brick ovens and the roar of firecrackers — subject to tight controls in an Olympic crackdown on hazardous materials — burst forth repeatedly on Friday.

“Nobody really knows what to expect (for the opening ceremony). We have heard no announcements at all. But we hope everything goes well today,” said a Uighur merchant as he pushed open the sliding doors of his curio shop.

A Kashgar government official who declined to give her name told AFP residents would be free to gather outside the city’s main mosque and its Chinese-built People’s Square to watch the ceremonies on giant-screen TVs.

Kashgar is about 90 per cent Uighur — an Islamic, central Asian people — many of whom resent what they call decades of Chinese political and religious persecution.

Xinjiang authorities had previously announced stepped-up security in Urumqi, the regional capital, and elsewhere after Monday’s attack.

Beijing Olympic organisers had no comment on Friday to the Turkestan Islamic Party’s latest video.

Kashgar came to a standstill for an hour on Thursday for a government-organised ceremony to remember the 16 slain policemen.

Among crowds lining roads in the city were about 2,000 Uighurs, several of whom said they had been ordered to take part.

Two short-lived East Turkestan republics emerged in Xinjiang in the 1930s and 1940s, when Chinese control was weakened by civil war and the Japanese invasion.

Xinjiang now has about 8.3 million ethnic Uighurs.

– AFP/ir

Channel News Asia


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