Turkish leader calls Xinjiang killings "genocide"

ISTANBUL Fri Jul 10, 2009 1:25pm EDT

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Friday genocide was being committed in China's northwest province of Xinjiang and called on Chinese authorities to intervene to prevent more deaths.

"The incidents in China are, simply put, a genocide. There's no point in interpreting this otherwise," Erdogan said.

Rioting between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang has killed 156 people and wounded more than 1,000 in the worst ethnic violence in China in decades. Both Uighurs and the Han have claimed a higher death toll from the strife.

"We're having trouble understanding how the Chinese government would remain a bystander to this," Erdogan told reporters in comments broadcast live on NTV television. "We want the Chinese administration, with which our bilateral ties are continuously improving, to show sensitivity."

Muslim Turkey shares linguistic and religious links with Uighurs, and Turkish nationalists see Xinjiang as the easternmost frontier of Turkic ethnicity. Thousands of Uighur immigrants live in Turkey.

Turkey has sought to boost ties with China, the world's third-biggest economy. President Abdullah Gul last month became the first Turkish president to visit China in 15 years, signing $1.5 billion worth of trade deals, according to Turkish media.

Turkey's Industry Minister Thursday called on Turks to boycott Chinese goods to protest the violence in Xinjiang, but a spokesman said this was the minister's personal view and not government policy.

Thursday, Erdogan said Turkey would grant a visa to exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, who is based in the United States. Kadeer told Turkish television that Turkish authorities had twice denied her visa application to visit the country.

(Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley)

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