China locks down Xinjiang a decade after deadly ethnic riots

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A woman holds onto a Chinese policeman as a crowd of locals confront security forces along a street in the city of Urumqi, in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region on July 7, 2009. (REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo)
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A woman yells as another cries in front of Chinese paramilitary police wearing riot gear as a crowd of angry locals confront security forces on a street in the city of Urumqi in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region on July 7, 2009. (REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo)
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Chinese paramilitary police in riot gear stand guard across the entrance to a large mosque in the centre of the city of Urumqi in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region on July 9, 2009. (REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo)
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An ethnic Uighur woman carries a metal rod as she walks down a main road in the city of Urumqi in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region July 8, 2009. (REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo)
Updated 06 July 2019

China locks down Xinjiang a decade after deadly ethnic riots

  • Riots erupted in mid-2009 Han Chinese workers killed at least two Uighur migrants in a brawl at a toy factory in Shaoguan
  • In the following years, a series of violent terror attacks rocked Xinjiang and elsewhere

ISTANBUL, Turkey: A decade after deadly riots tore through his hometown, Kamilane Abudushalamu still vividly recalls the violence that left him an exile.
On July 5, 2009, Abudushalamu was hiding with his father on the 10th floor of an office tower in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang region that is home to the Turkic Uighur ethnic minority. By a park, he spotted a bus on fire. Then he heard a crack as a motorcycle nearby exploded.
Hours later, when he and his father stepped out to sprint home, he saw crowds of Uighurs stabbing Han Chinese in front of a middle school. The bodies of half a dozen people lay scattered on the streets — just a fraction of the estimated 200 killed that night.
Abudushalamu and tens of thousands of other Uighurs now live in Turkey, cut off from friends and family back home. Analysts say the Urumqi riots set in motion the harsh security measures now in place across Xinjiang, where about 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims are estimated to be held in heavily guarded internment camps. Former detainees have told The Associated Press that within, they are subject to indoctrination and psychological torture.
Abudushalamu was just 9 years old when the riots took place. At the time, he knew he was witnessing something terrible, but he never imagined where the following years would lead.
“I thought Han and Uighur people could be at peace,” he said. “The camps? I never thought that would happen.”
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DECADES OF RESENTMENT
The riots started as a peaceful protest.
Weeks before, Han workers killed at least two Uighur migrants in a brawl at a toy factory in Shaoguan, an industrial city in China’s coastal Guangdong province. The Han workers were angry about the alleged rapes of Han women by Uighur men, though a government investigation later concluded there was no evidence such an assault had taken place.
Images and videos of the brawl quickly circulated among Uighurs back in Xinjiang, including gory scenes of what appeared to be a Han Chinese man dragging a dead Uighur by his hair.
The videos enraged many Uighurs long upset with the Han-dominated government that took control of their region following the Communist revolution in 1949.
The litany of complaints was long: heavy restrictions on religious education, discrimination against college-educated Uighurs looking for jobs, subsidies and benefits for Han migrants to settle on lands once owned by Uighurs.
Among the most odious were threats from state officials of fines or even jail time if parents didn’t send their young, unmarried daughters to work in factories in inner China . “Hashar,” a program that forced farmers to pave roads, dig ditches, and clear land for crops for the government for no pay fueled further resentment.
The killed Uighur workers had been on a state employment program, sent more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from home. For many, their deaths crystallized everything that was wrong about Beijing’s heavy-handed interventionist policies — and the belittling racism they felt they were subjected to by the Han Chinese.
The images spurred Urumqi students to organize a protest on July 5 demanding a government investigation. Demonstrators were stopped by police in the late afternoon, and tensions mounted until officers opened fire, Uighur witnesses say.
Two students present at the protests told AP that they were shot at. One recalled that as he turned and ran, bullets whizzed by his head and others around him dropped to the ground.
Furious Uighurs attacked Han civilians on the streets. An estimated 200 people were killed — stabbed, beaten or burned alive in the melees that followed. Uighurs smashed storefronts, overturned cars and buses and set some ablaze.
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THE CRACKDOWN DESCENDS
Abudushalamu hid with his family for days as mobs of Uighurs and Han killed each other in cycles of bloody revenge.
When they stepped outside a few days later, the streets were eerily empty, Abudushalamu said. Then the police arrived and started shooting.
“Two maybe SWAT team (members) came after me and shot at me,” said Abudushalamu, now 19. “The bullet went through right behind my right ear. I’m lucky I’m still alive.”
In the days after the violence on July 5, 2009, Beijing had sent in thousands of troops to restore order. For weeks, they fired tear gas, raided businesses and swept through Uighur neighborhoods to arrest hundreds, many of whom were punished with decades in prison. The entire region of 20 million people was cut off from the Internet for months in an attempt to curtail use of social media.
Normality had returned, but Xinjiang was never quite the same. Ethnic divisions hardened. Han Chinese avoided Uighur neighborhoods, and vice versa. Many Han Chinese steered clear of the whole of the region’s south, home to most of Xinjiang’s Uighurs, because they believed it was too dangerous.
Experts say that July 5 and the subsequent crackdown was a “turning point.”
“From that moment on, China took a very hard-line position toward the control of religion and the control of minority ethnic groups in the region,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia. “It increased dramatically its security operation. That really is what led to the situation today.”
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UNITED “LIKE POMEGRANATE SEEDS“
In the following years, a series of violent terror attacks rocked Xinjiang and elsewhere. Dozens of civilians were hacked to death at a busy train station in China’s south. A Uighur drove a car into crowds at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Forty-three died when men threw bombs from two sports utility vehicles plowing through a busy market street in Urumqi.
When newly appointed Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Xinjiang in 2014, bombs tore through an Urumqi train station, killing three and injuring 79. In a Xinjiang work conference shortly afterward, Xi called on the state to integrate different ethnicities and remold religion to ward off extremism.
“The more separatists attempt to sabotage our ethnic unity, the more we should try to reinforce it,” state media quoted Xi as saying. China’s ethnicities, Xi said, could and should be united like “the seeds of a pomegranate.”
Already tight limits on religion, culture, education and dress tightened even further, with restrictions on long beards and headscarves and the detentions of prominent Uighur academics and literary figures who were widely considered moderate advocates of traditional Uighur culture.
After a new party secretary was appointed to take control of Xinjiang in 2016, thousands began to vanish into a vast network of prison-like camps. Beijing calls them “vocational training centers” designed to ward off terrorism and root out extremist thoughts, but former detainees describe them as indoctrination centers which arbitrarily confine their inmates and subject them to torture and food deprivation.
That same year, Abudushalamu’s father had taken him to Turkey to study at a boarding school and then returned to China. The following June, he stopped responding to messages, and Abudushalamu never heard from his father again.
Abudushalamu finally discovered his father’s fate last year when an acquaintance in Turkey told him he saw his father in an internment camp. He says he has now heard of more than 50 family members that have been detained in Xinjiang. Researchers estimate the camps now hold 1 million or more Uighurs and other members of Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities.
Abudushalamu says there is no reason for authorities to “train” his father, a successful businessman who speaks nine languages.
“It’s delusional,” he said. “Why does he still need to be ‘educated?’“


Over 600 Daesh affiliates surrender to Afghan forces

Daesha militants who surrendered to the Afghan government are presented to media in Jalalabad, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan November 17, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 46 min 58 sec ago

Over 600 Daesh affiliates surrender to Afghan forces

  • The Taliban — the main insurgent group which used to rule Afghanistan before its ouster in 2001 — had tightened its noose on Daesh, too

KABUL: More than 600 Daesh sympathizers, many of them foreigners, surrendered to the Afghan government this month due to Kabul’s sustained operations in the eastern province of Nangarhar, officials said on Sunday.
President Ashraf Ghani, in a meeting with defense and security chiefs, hailed the development.
“President Ghani congratulated the Afghan Security and Defense Forces on their latest victory against Daesh in Nangarhar province,” Sediq Seddiqi, Ghani’s chief spokesman, said in a statement, adding that hundreds of Daesh fighters had “surrendered to the Afghan forces after their defeat” in an Afghan military operation.
News of the surrender is the first of its kind on such a scale since the emergence of the group five years ago.
It follows the killing of Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in a US operation last month, and the deaths of a number of the network’s commanders in Afghanistan over the last year in joint Afghan and US-led operations.
The Taliban — the main insurgent group which used to rule Afghanistan before its ouster in 2001 — had tightened its noose on Daesh, too.
Reports of the surrender could be a major boost for Afghan forces and the government, which has been locked in infighting and faces a growing issue over the undeclared outcome of the September 28 presidential elections. It also faces daily attacks from Taliban forces.
The Afghan Ministry of Defense said the fighters included nationals from Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia as wall as some of their families.

“With the increase in crushing operations of defense and security forces against terrorists in Nangahar … 615 Daesh fighters with their families have surrendered,” it said.
Afghan Interior Minister Masoud Andrabi said on Sunday that the local Daesh group, the so-called Islamic State of Khorasan, or IS-K, had been “completely defeated and driven out” of their strongholds in Nangarhar.
The Taliban, who have long accused the government of aiding Daesh, expressed doubts over the authenticity of the reports.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid blamed government forces for “rescuing Daesh fighters who were under the siege of the Taliban” in the area.
There are no firm estimates about the number of Daesh fighters currently in Afghanistan.
Some analysts believe the death of Al-Baghdadi and loss of the group’s leaders in Afghanistan had weakened it.
“Daesh is an alien phenomena here and it is natural that in a war when there is pressure, you would either fight or surrender,” Gen. Attqiqullah Amarkhail told Arab News.
“Daesh has no room here, it has lost its commanders in the fighting and the killing of Al-Baghdadi deprived it of resources and funding. You cannot run a war without resources and people’s help and people do not like Daesh at all here,” he added.

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