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14-05-12, 18:33
Ethnic Uighurs 'face fight for existence' against China, says leader
Agence France-Presse

May 14, 2012
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TOKYO // The Uighur people face a fight for their very existence against Chinese repression, their exiled leader said yesterday as a conference in Japan threatened to drive a wedge between Tokyo and Beijing.

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Topic China Japan

Ethnic Uighurs and their supporters from around the world gathered in the Japanese capital for a meeting aimed at pressing their claim for freedom from what Rebiya Kadeer called China's intensifying crackdown.

"Before, we were fighting for our rights, we were protesting against China's oppression," Ms Kadeer said. "But now we face a fight for our existence."

"The situation is now worse than it was in 2009," when Uighurs demonstrated and clashed with the Chinese authorities, she said.

Many Uighurs complain that they are the victims of state-sanctioned persecution and marginalisation in their homeland in north-west China, aided by the migration of millions of Han Chinese into the territory.

The resulting ethnic tensions have led to sporadic flashes of violence in the Xinjiang region, which is home to nine million Uighurs.

Ms Kadeer told the conference that Beijing's policy of "forcible assimilation" was unacceptable in a modern democracy.

"The Chinese government says it is assimilating and eventually eliminating the Uighur people and other indigenous people ... meanwhile China is becoming a global power. We are peacefully struggling and hope the Chinese government will stop the repressing of Uighur people ... and take political reforms to change their authoritarian rule."

Beijing says it has poured money into Xinjiang in a bid to raise living standards and boost the local economy.

Xinjiang authorities have also announced measures to try to spur employment, with one clause stipulating all businesses and projects hire more ethnic minority workers, but Uighurs say the rules are not always respected.

China considers the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) a separatist organisation and has condemned Japan's issuing of a visa for Ms Kadeer, who last visited the country in 2009.

The gathering came after the Japanese prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, met his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, and the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, in a summit focusing on economic ties and the region's response to North Korea.

Mr Noda and Mr Wen met on Sunday for one-on-one talks, but reports from Beijing yesterday suggested the Chinese had sought to avoid a second high-level meeting as a way of expressing displeasure over Japan allowing the conference to go ahead.

Lawmakers from Japan's centre-right opposition Liberal Democratic Party were at yesterday's meeting of the WUC, alongside an Italian and a Turkish politician, as well as delegates of the India-based Tibetan government in exile and US rights activists.

Later in the day Uighur representatives were expected to visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.

The shrine is a hot spot i