July 14, 2009 / 5:17 AM / 10 years ago

China dismisses accusation of Xinjiang genocide

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Tuesday dismissed Turkey’s accusation of genocide in its northwestern Muslim region of Xinjiang, where rioting killed 184 people, mostly majority Han Chinese.

An ethnic Uighur man and woman sit in front of a public notice regarding last weekend's riots in the city of Urumqi in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region July 13, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray

In Xinjiang’s worst ethnic violence in decades, Uighurs on July 5 attacked Han in the regional capital Urumqi 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.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said last week genocide was being committed in Xinjiang and called on Chinese authorities to intervene.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on Tuesday the accusation of genocide simply did not make sense. Most people who died in the riots were Han and over the past few decades the Uighur population in Xinjiang had shot up, he said.

“In which country could this be called genocide?” Qin told a regular news briefing.

“We hope that our Muslim brothers can realize the truth of the July 5 incident in Urumqi. Once they know the truth, they would support our ethnic and religious policies and the measures the Chinese government has taken to deal with the incident.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told his Turkish counterpart by telephone on Sunday the Urumqi riots were a grave crime orchestrated by the “three evil forces”, Xinhua news agency said, referring to extremism, separatism and terrorism.

In an editorial headlined “Don’t twist facts”, the English-language China Daily said the fact 137 of the 184 victims were Han “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”.

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.

Turkish nationalists see Xinjiang as the easternmost frontier of Turkic ethnicity. Thousands of Uighurs live in Turkey.

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 the regional capital Urumqi.

More than 1,600 people were wounded and 1,000 detained in an ensuing crackdown.

On Monday, police shot dead two knife-wielding Uighurs and wounded a third to stop them from attacking a fourth Uighur, a security guard at a mosque in Urumqi.

Slideshow (4 Images)

Also on Monday, officials in Yining city, about 700 km (435 miles) west of Urumqi, announced that more than 70 members of two “violent gangs” had been rounded up, the semi-official China News portal (www.chinanews.com.cn) reported.

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.

China has blamed the ethnic unrest on exiled Uighur separatists. They deny the charges.

Additional reporting by Liu Zhen; Editing by Nick Macfie

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