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Muslim countries mostly silent on China unrest

China's crackdown on its Muslim Uighur minority has drawn a muted response from many Muslim countries that may be wary of damaging lucrative trade ties with Beijing.
APTOPIX China Protest
Paramilitary police officers patrol as Uighur men walk by in Urumqi, western China's Xinjiang province, on Monday.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The riots in China's Xinjiang region and subsequent crackdown on the Muslim Uighur minority have drawn a muted response from many Muslim countries that may be wary of damaging lucrative trade ties with Beijing or attracting attention to their own attitudes toward political dissent.

The non-Arab countries of Iran and Turkey have been among the few to criticize China. Iran is busy dealing with its own unrest following a disputed presidential election, while Turkey has ethnic ties to China's Uighur minority.

But throughout much of the Middle East and the Arab world, the violence in China has generated little reaction.

Arab regimes "couldn't criticize the attacks on Chinese Muslims because they themselves have no democracy," said Labib Kamhawi, a Jordanian political analyst. "They're in the same boat as the Chinese government."

China has poured tens of thousands of troops into the western Xinjiang region over the past few days, imposing tight control on the capital of Urumqi and surrounding areas after ethnic violence left more than 180 people dead and 1,680 wounded last week.

The Uighurs, who number 9 million in Xinjiang, have complained about an influx of Han Chinese and government restrictions on their Muslim religion. They accuse the majority Han community of discrimination and the Communist Party of trying to erase their language and culture.

Iran, Turkey speak out
China is a major trading partner for many Arab countries including Sudan, Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf nations. It is Jordan's third-largest largest trading partner, following Saudi Arabia and the United States. Jordan also is seeking to attract Chinese investment in projects such as renewable energy, railroads and water desalination.

Iran has been one of the few Muslim countries to speak out on the crackdown. On Sunday, the official IRNA news agency reported that Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki had discussed the ethnic clashes in a phone conversation with his Chinese counterpart and "reflected concerns among Islamic countries."

High-ranking clerics also condemned the crackdown and urged the government to complain to China.

"Silence and indifference toward such oppressions on the people is an unforgivable vice," said Grand Ayatollah Youssef Saanei, a major religious figure who has criticized his own government's violent response to mass protests over the disputed June 12 election. Iran's crackdown on protesters has drawn international condemnation from both Western governments and human rights groups.

The most powerful response from the Muslim world came from Turkey, where some 5,000 people protested in Istanbul on Sunday to denounce the ethnic violence and call on their government to intervene.

Turks share ethnic and cultural bonds with the Turkic-speaking Uighurs. The Chinese violence has sparked almost daily protests in Turkey, mostly outside heavily guarded Chinese diplomatic missions in Istanbul and Ankara where some protesters have burned Chinese flags or China-made goods. Sunday's protest, however, was the largest.

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has compared the situation in Xinjiang to genocide, the foreign minister has conveyed Turkey's concerns to China, and Turkey's industry minister has urged Turks to stop buying Chinese goods. The government, however, has no plans for an official boycott.

Relations with Muslim world
In the Arab world, two extremist Islamic Web sites affiliated with al-Qaida called for killing Han Chinese in the Middle East, noting large communities of ethnic Chinese laborers work in Algeria and Saudi Arabia.

"Chop off their heads at their workplaces or in their homes to tell them that the time of enslaving Muslims has gone," read one posting.

In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Foreign Ministry official Ahmed Youssef said his Islamic militant movement said the unrest would harm China's relations with the Muslim world.

"We hope that the Chinese government improves its relations with the Muslims of the Xinjiang region, and not to harm those relations by harming the Uighurs," he said.