10/01/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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Maximum alert in Xinjiang against "separatism" and "terrorism"

Today is the 50th anniversary of Beijing's domination of the autonomous region and China is apprehensive about Uighur moves there. Activists from this persecuted ethnic group warn: anti-Chinese sentiment is growing, Xinjiang could become a "time bomb".

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China's security forces are on maximum alert in Xinjiang. The government has ordered the suppression of any separatism or terrorism bids, which may come from the Muslim Uighurs, on the day marking the 50th anniversary of Beijing's control over the autonomous region. This ethnic group, with its own language and traditions, accounts for the majority of Xinjiang's 19 million inhabitants; the northern oil-rich region was independent until 1955 under the name East Turkestan.

Alert levels shot up yesterday when Uighur Muslim activists in exile warned that they wanted to transform today's celebrations into a "day of mourning".

Luo Gan, a member of the permanent Politburo Committee of the Communist party, said yesterday that "Xinjiang's stability worries the whole country. We must continue to struggle hard against all criminal activities and to maintain social order."

For many years, China, fearing autonomy bids, has persecuted this ethnic group with imprisonment and the systematic annihilation of their identity. Yesterday, Muslim Uighur campaigners in exile – who came together for the World Uighur Congress (WUC) – criticized China for oppressing and exploiting Xinjiang region and warned that the area could well become a "time bomb".

According to WUC, "the policies of political oppression, cultural assimilation, economic exploitation, ecological destruction, racial discrimination have gradually turned East Turkestan into a time bomb. As a result, severe anti-Chinese sentiment has intensified throughout East Turkestan."

According to the WUC, the Chinese leader Mao Zedong established Xinjiang in 1955 after having promised self-determination and full independence for the people of east Turkestan.

"China's founder died three decades ago, but China's strategic, political and economic objectives in East Turkestan have remained unchanged," the WUC said. "The present Chinese leaders are continuing the same policy to transform East Turkestan completely into a Chinese colony, culturally assimilate the Uighur people, and exploit their natural resources."

For Beijing, Xinjiang is crucial because of its strategic position close to central Asia and because of its large gas and oil reserves. In the last decade, the area has seen a consistent influx of ethnic Han Chinese.

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