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Exiled Activist Says Uyghur Issue Crucial For Central Asia

Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress
Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress
PRAGUE/VIENNA -- World Uyghur Congress President Rebiya Kadeer has told RFE/RL she is urging European politicians to focus on the fate of Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang Province who continue to be persecuted and jailed, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

Kadeer told RFE/RL by phone from Vienna that thousands of Uyghurs have been arrested, sentenced, and jailed in Xinjiang since interethnic clashes in July in the region's capital, Urumchi, when at least 197 people were killed.

"[The Europeans] understand our problems very well -- all the [European] politicians I met with said they would put Uyghur issues on their agenda," Kadeer said. "Peace for Uyghurs means peace in Central Asia and peace in the world. And politicians in European governments, parliaments, and EU institutions said that's why they think it's important to put Uyghur problems on their agenda."

Kadeer, who was imprisoned by Beijing for five years before being released in 2005, is meeting with government officials and human rights activists on a tour of European capitals that includes Rome, Berlin, Vienna, Stockholm, Brussels, and Paris.

She said that she is unable to travel to Central Asian countries because those governments are afraid of angering China with her visit.

Kadeer, 62, told RFE/RL that the Uyghurs -- who are considered the province's indigenous people -- are currently trying to leave China for other countries in order to avoid persecution, which has worsened since the riots.

Kadeer stressed that the issue of the Uyghurs in China is important for neighboring Central Asian countries, a message she is bringing to European officials.

Xinjiang, which means "New Frontier" in Mandarin Chinese, is called East Turkestan by Uyghurs after the republic that was established on the territory of Xinjiang in 1933 and 1944.

In both cases the republic was dissolved and the territory was annexed by China.

Uyghurs are a Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic group.

Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs live in Central Asia's post-Soviet republics.