Exiles claim China planning crackdown on Xinjiang during Ramadan

A group of exiles from China's Muslim ethnic Uighur minority alleged Tuesday that police were planning to crack down on the Xinjiang region, where a series of attacks were carried out during the Olympic Games, dpa reported.

The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress said Xinjiang authorities plan to hold a 40-day "Strike Hard" campaign next month, coinciding with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Such campaigns are routinely carried out in China, but in Xinjiang they focus on finding suspected terrorists, religious extremists and separatists.

"The main targets of this Strike Hard are fasting Uighurs, including cadres (civil servants) and students," the group's spokesman Dilxat Raxit said in a statement.

Fasting is a common practice by devout Muslims worldwide during Ramadan. People avoid food and drink, even water, from dawn to dusk, only eating in the early morning and at night.

"With the Strike Hard activity being held around the time of Ramadan, Uighurs will be welcoming Islam's holiday under an atmosphere of fear," Raxit said.

"We strongly request the international community to pay attention to China's banning of Uighurs from fasting and trampling on religious rights."

An employee at the Xinjiang public security department's propaganda bureau denied the allegations when contacted by phone.

"There's no such plan," said the man, who only gave his surname Li.

He also said government employees including Uighurs who work in the police department are not forbidden to fast. But he admitted that in his 20 years at the bureau, he was not aware of any Uighur colleagues fasting, either.

"It's up to them. We respect minorities' practices," he said.

An employee contacted at a post office of Xinjiang's capital Urumqi said: "Some people fast, some people don't. It's based on their practice."

In Shule county, located 30 kilometers from the city of Kashgar, 12 people were arrested on charges of trying to divide the country and participating in illegal religious activities, Raxit alleged.

Xinjiang has witnessed a spate of deadly attacks, which analysts believe were timed to coincide with the August 8-24 Olympic Games in Beijing. China blamed Uighur terrorists and separatists.

The attacks killed at least 26 people in less than 10 days.

On August 4, two Uighur men drove a truck into a group of soldiers on their morning jog in Kashgar city, and used homemade bombs and knives to kill 16 soldiers, injuring 16 others.

On Sunday, more than a dozen explosions were set off in Kuqa county, damaging mostly government buildings, with 10 "terrorists" killed by police bullets or their own bombs, the government said.

On Tuesday, three security guards were stabbed to death at a roadside checkpoint near Kashgar.

The Turkic-speaking population enjoyed brief periods of independence in the 1930s and 1940s, although Chinese dynasties have historically sought to control the region. But since Communist rule, China has encouraged an influx of ethnic Han Chinese to the region, inflaming racial tensions.

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