BEIJING, July 14 (Reuters) - An official Chinese newspaper urged Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday to take back remarks that genocide was being committed in China’s Muslim region of Xinjiang, where rioting left at least 184 dead.
In Xinjiang’s worst ethnic violence in decades, Uighurs attacked Han Chinese, the country’s predominant ethnic group, in regional capital Urumqi on July 5 after police tried to break up a protest against fatal attacks on Uighur workers at a factory in south China.
Han Chinese launched revenge attacks two days later.
In an editorial headlined "Don’t twist facts", the English-language China Daily said the fact that 137 of the 184 victims were Han Chinese "speaks volumes for the nature of the event".
The death toll included 46 Uighurs, a Turkic people who are largely Muslim and share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia.
The newspaper urged Erdogan to "take back his remarks ... which constitute interference in China’s internal affairs".
More than 1,600 people were wounded and more than 1,000 detained in an ensuing crackdown.
In comments broadcast live on NTV television last Friday, Erdogan told reporters: "The incidents in China are, simply put, a genocide. There’s no point in interpreting this otherwise."
He called Chinese authorities to intervene to prevent more deaths.
Turkish nationalists see Xinjiang as the easternmost frontier of Turkic ethnicity. Thousands of Uighurs 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.
Gul also visited Xinjiang during his trip.
Xinjiang has long been a tightly controlled hotbed of ethnic tensions, fostered by an economic gap between Uighurs and Han, government controls on religion and culture and an influx of Han migrants. Uighurs make up almost half of Xinjiang’s 20 million people, but are a minority in regional capital Urumqi.
Beijing does not want to lose its grip on Xinjiang, a vast desert territory that borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, has abundant oil reserves and is China’s largest natural gas-producing region.
On 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.
China has blamed the ethnic unrest on exiled Uighur separatists, especially Kadeer, who denies the charge.
Turkey’s industry minister has 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. (Reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim; Editing by David Fox)