Middle East

Uighur Muslims protest in Turkey as Chinese foreign minister visits

ISTANBUL (REUTERS) – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara on Thursday (March 25) as Uighur Muslims protested against the treatment of their ethnic kin in the farwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang.

Beijing approved an extradition treaty between the two nations in December and with the deal awaiting ratification by Ankara’s parliament, activists among some 40,000 Uighurs living in Turkey have stepped up efforts to highlight their plight. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said regional and international issues as well as bilateral relations will be discussed during Wang’s visit. He is scheduled to meet Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at 1100 GMT (7pm Singapore time).

Uighurs’ worries have been fuelled by Ankara’s dependence on China for Covid-19 vaccines until now, having received 15 million doses from Sinovac Biotech and ordered tens of millions more. This week, Turkey received 1.4 million doses of the vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech, the first significant batch of non-Chinese vaccines.

Around 300 demonstrators gathered in Istanbul, chanting “Dictator China” and “Stop Uighur Genocide, Close the Camps”. Some waved the blue-and-white flags of the independence movement of East Turkestan, the name by which it refers to Xinjiang. Uighurs hold regular protests in the capital Ankara and the largest city Istanbul to protest against China’s treatment of Uighurs.

UN experts estimate at least a million Uighurs and other Muslims are held in detention centres in northwest China’s Xinjiang. The United States said in January China has committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” by repressing Uighurs. China denies accusations of abuses in Xinjiang, and has said the complexes it set up in the region provided vocational training to help stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism.

Cavusoglu has denied that the extradition agreement between the two countries would lead to Uighurs being sent back to China, describing it as a routine accord similar to ones Turkey has with other countries. A Chinese embassy spokesperson said last month that Uighurs who have been holding regular protests near China’s diplomatic premises in Turkey in recent months were trying to deceive Turkish people and damage relations.

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