World News

Exiled Uighur leader rejects China riot accusations

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Exiled Uighur businesswoman and activist Rebiya Kadeer rejected on Monday Chinese allegations that she was behind rioting in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region that left at least 156 people dead.

“I feel compelled ... to rebut some of the Chinese allegations,” she said through an interpreter in Washington. She said she called her brother when she learned of these troubles in the region to warn him to stay away from the demonstrations.

“A call I made to my brother does not mean I organized the whole event,” she said.

The Uighur businesswoman, a 62-year-old mother of 11 children, has been in exile in the United States since 2005, after years in jail, and accused of separatist activities.

Chinese state media quoted unnamed officials as blaming Kadeer’s World Uyghur Congress led by Kadeer for the violence.

Hundreds of people have been arrested, the official Xinhua news agency said, after protesters from the Uighur minority took to the streets of the regional capital Urumqi on Sunday, burning and smashing vehicles and shops, and clashing with police.

Kadder echoed exiled Uighur groups in rejecting the Chinese government claim of a plot. They said the riot was an outpouring of pent-up anger over government policies and Han Chinese economic dominance of Xinjiang, just under half of whose 20 million people are Uighurs.

The unrest underscores the volatile ethnic tensions that have accompanied China’s growing economic and political stake in its western frontiers.

Along with Tibet, Xinjiang is one of the most politically sensitive regions in China. In both places the government has sought to maintain its grip by controlling religious and cultural life while promising economic growth and prosperity.

Reporting by Paul Eckert, editing by Philip Barbara