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Kazakhstan/China - Ethnic Leader Says Executions Sparked Unrest

Almaty, 11 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - The leader of an exiled nationalist Uighur group in Kazakhstan says that riots in China's predominantly Muslim northwestern Xinjiang region were sparked by the execution of 30 Uighurs by the Chinese authorities last week.

Yusupbek Mukhlisi, leader of the United National Revolutionary Front of East Turkestan, told Reuters today in the Kazakh capital of Almaty he understands that the 30 Uighurs were executed by a firing squad.

News reports yesterday said the trouble involved pro-independence Uighurs and Han Chinese. Those reports quoted local officials and local television as saying the trouble began in Yining last Wednesday after police tried to detain a Uighur man. The city is the capital of the Ili Kazakh Prefecture of Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region near the border with Kazakhstan.

Security forces reportedly quelled the rioting with tear gas and a curfew was imposed. Reports of deaths and injuries were not confirmed by Chinese authorities. Nor was there any clear word on arrests. Reports today quote Chinese residents in Yining as saying the town has been sealed off by Chinese police and that a curfew is in place.

Xinjiang has a long history of ethnic clashes between the native population of mainly Muslim ethnic minorities and the ruling Han Chinese.