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China locks down Xinjiang a decade after deadly ethnic riots

July 06, 2019

ISTANBUL (AP) — A decade after deadly riots tore through his hometown, Kamilane Abudushalamu still vividly recalls the violence that left him an exile. On July 5, 2009, Abudushalamu was hiding with his father on the 10th floor of an office tower in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang region that is home to the Turkic Uighur ethnic minority. By a park, he spotted a bus on fire. Then he heard a crack as a motorcycle nearby exploded.

Hours later, when he and his father stepped out to sprint home, he saw crowds of Uighurs stabbing Han Chinese in front of a middle school. The bodies of half a dozen people lay scattered on the streets — just a fraction of the estimated 200 killed that night.

Abudushalamu and tens of thousands of other Uighurs now live in Turkey, cut off from friends and family back home. Analysts say the Urumqi riots set in motion the harsh security measures now in place across Xinjiang, where about 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims are estimated to be held in heavily guarded internment camps. Former detainees have told The Associated Press that within, they are subject to indoctrination and psychological torture.

Abudushalamu was just 9 years old when the riots took place. At the time, he knew he was witnessing something terrible, but he never imagined where the following years would lead. “I thought Han and Uighur people could be at peace,” he said. “The camps? I never thought that would happen.”

DECADES OF RESENTMENT

The riots started as a peaceful protest.

Weeks before, Han workers killed at least two Uighur migrants in a brawl at a toy factory in Shaoguan, an industrial city in China’s coastal Guangdong province. The Han workers were angry about the alleged rapes of Han women by Uighur men, though a government investigation later concluded there was no evidence such an assault had taken place.

Images and videos of the brawl quickly circulated among Uighurs back in Xinjiang, including gory scenes of what appeared to be a Han Chinese man dragging a dead Uighur by his hair.

The videos enraged many Uighurs long upset with the Han-dominated government that took control of their region following the Communist revolution in 1949.

The litany of complaints was long: heavy restrictions on religious education, discrimination against college-educated Uighurs looking for jobs, subsidies and benefits for Han migrants to settle on lands once owned by Uighurs.

Among the most odious were threats from state officials of fines or even jail time if parents didn’t send their young, unmarried daughters to work in factories in inner China. “Hashar,” a program that forced farmers to pave roads, dig ditches, and clear land for crops for the government for no pay fueled further resentment.

The killed Uighur workers had been on a state employment program, sent more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from home. For many, their deaths crystallized everything that was wrong about Beijing’s heavy-handed interventionist policies — and the belittling racism they felt they were subjected to by the Han Chinese.

The images spurred Urumqi students to organize a protest on July 5 demanding a government investigation. Demonstrators were stopped by police in the late afternoon, and tensions mounted until officers opened fire, Uighur witnesses say.

Two students present at the protests told AP that they were shot at. One recalled that as he turned and ran, bullets whizzed by his head and others around him dropped to the ground.

Furious Uighurs attacked Han civilians on the streets. An estimated 200 people were killed — stabbed, beaten or burned alive in the melees that followed. Uighurs smashed storefronts, overturned cars and buses and set some ablaze.

THE CRACKDOWN DESCENDS

Abudushalamu hid with his family for days as mobs of Uighurs and Han killed each other in cycles of bloody revenge.

When they stepped outside a few days later, the streets were eerily empty, Abudushalamu said. Then the police arrived and started shooting.

“Two maybe SWAT team (members) came after me and shot at me,” said Abudushalamu, now 19. “The bullet went through right behind my right ear. I’m lucky I’m still alive.”

In the days after the violence on July 5, 2009, Beijing had sent in thousands of troops to restore order. For weeks, they fired tear gas, raided businesses and swept through Uighur neighborhoods to arrest hundreds, many of whom were punished with decades in prison. The entire region of 20 million people was cut off from the internet for months in an attempt to curtail use of social media.

Normality had returned, but Xinjiang was never quite the same. Ethnic divisions hardened. Han Chinese avoided Uighur neighborhoods, and vice versa. Many Han Chinese steered clear of the whole of the region’s south, home to most of Xinjiang’s Uighurs, because they believed it was too dangerous.

Experts say that July 5 and the subsequent crackdown was a “turning point.”

“From that moment on, China took a very hard-line position toward the control of religion and the control of minority ethnic groups in the region,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia. “It increased dramatically its security operation. That really is what led to the situation today.”

UNITED “LIKE POMEGRANATE SEEDS”

In the following years, a series of violent terror attacks rocked Xinjiang and elsewhere. Dozens of civilians were hacked to death at a busy train station in China’s south. A Uighur drove a car into crowds at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Forty-three died when men threw bombs from two sports utility vehicles plowing through a busy market street in Urumqi.

When newly appointed Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Xinjiang in 2014, bombs tore through an Urumqi train station, killing three and injuring 79. In a Xinjiang work conference shortly afterward, Xi called on the state to integrate different ethnicities and remold religion to ward off extremism.

“The more separatists attempt to sabotage our ethnic unity, the more we should try to reinforce it,” state media quoted Xi as saying. China’s ethnicities, Xi said, could and should be united like “the seeds of a pomegranate.”

Already tight limits on religion, culture, education and dress tightened even further, with restrictions on long beards and headscarves and the detentions of prominent Uighur academics and literary figures who were widely considered moderate advocates of traditional Uighur culture.

After a new party secretary was appointed to take control of Xinjiang in 2016, thousands began to vanish into a vast network of prison-like camps. Beijing calls them “vocational training centers” designed to ward off terrorism and root out extremist thoughts, but former detainees describe them as indoctrination centers which arbitrarily confine their inmates and subject them to torture and food deprivation.

That same year, Abudushalamu’s father had taken him to Turkey to study at a boarding school and then returned to China. The following June, he stopped responding to messages, and Abudushalamu never heard from his father again.

Abudushalamu finally discovered his father’s fate last year when an acquaintance in Turkey told him he saw his father in an internment camp. He says he has now heard of more than 50 family members that have been detained in Xinjiang. Researchers estimate the camps now hold 1 million or more Uighurs and other members of Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities.

Abudushalamu says there is no reason for authorities to “train” his father, a successful businessman who speaks nine languages.

“It’s delusional,” he said. “Why does he still need to be ‘educated?'”

Associated Press journalists Kiko Rosario in Bangkok and Yanan Wang in Beijing contributed to this report.

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Algeria Postpones Presidential Vote After Contenders Disqualified

2 June 2019

Algeria has postponed presidential elections planned for next month after the two candidates were disqualified. The polls were to elect a successor to Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned after pressure from protesters.

Algeria’s Constitutional Council announced Sunday that it would be “impossible” for the presidential vote to go ahead on July 4 because the only two candidates in the race had been rejected.

The elections were planned after mass pro-democracy protests and pressure from the military forced long-time leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down in April.

Algerians have been holding marches for months, calling for political reforms and a clear break from the elite that dominated politics during Bouteflika’s two decades in power. The protesters have also demanded the polls be delayed over fears of vote rigging.

Two candidates rejected

Only two, largely unknown, candidates lodged bids by the deadline last week. The council said it had knocked back both application but did not explain why.

“Based on this decision, it is impossible to conduct the presidential elections on July 4,” the council said in a statement, according to Algeria’s official news agency APS.

The council added that it was now up to interim President Abdelkader Bensalah to set a date for a new vote. Bensalah had been appointed interim leader until July 9, but protesters say they want him gone.

On Friday, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched in the capital, Algiers, and other cities to demand his resignation, along with that of Bouteflika ally, Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui.

Source: allAfrica.

Link: https://allafrica.com/stories/201906030002.html.

Algeria to hold first post-Bouteflika presidential election July 4

By Darryl Coote

APRIL 11, 2019

April 11 (UPI) — Algeria’s newly appointed interim leader set July 4 to hold the presidential election following last week’s resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Senate leader Abdelkader Bensalah, 77, made the televised announcement Wednesday, according to state-run media Algeria Press Service, which comes a day after Algerian lawmakers appointed him the nation’s interim president for the next 90 days.

Bensalah, who is unable to run in the election, also announced plans to create a “sovereign” body with both politicians and civil society in order to foster conditions necessary for an honest election process, Al Jazeera reported.

The announcement failed to placate protesters who have held mass demonstrations since February demanding a change in the country’s leadership.

The protests first erupted after President Bouteflika announcement late February that he would be running for a fifth term.

The 82-year-old Bouteflika, who had held tight to the reigns of his country since 1999, resigned April 2, after Algeria’s army chief said it would pursue a constitutional procedure to declare the ailing, wheelchair-bound president unfit to rule.

Despite Bouteflika’s resignation, protests persisted as the public worried the country’s rule would only shift to another member of the same regime, and Bensalah’s appointment did little to assuage those concerns as he had served as Speaker of the Council under Bouteflika.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior, Local Authorities and National Planning announced through the state-run Algeria Press Service Wednesday that it had authorized 10 political parties and 22 national and inter-provincial associations.

The ministry said it had examined files on the different parties and associations on a case-by-case basis and allowed 10 political parties “to hold their constituent congresses in accordance with the provisions of the organic law on political parties” while “certificates of approval have been issued to 22 national and inter-provincial associations.”

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2019/04/11/Algeria-to-hold-first-post-Bouteflika-presidential-election-July-4/3061554973003/.

F-35s for Turkey on hold as U.S. approves sales for Australia, Norway

By Allen Cone

APRIL 2, 2019

April 2 (UPI) — Lockheed Martin was awarded a $151.3 million contract to sell 15 F-35 Lightning II aircraft to Australia and six to Norway.

The contract for the 21 planes comes in the wake of the United States halting delivery of equipment related to the F-35 jet to Turkey because of the nation’s decision to purchase the Russian-made S-400 missile system. As a NATO partner in the development of the fighter jet, Turkey makes parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays and was expecting the first of the $90 million jets to arrive in November.

The sale to Australia and Norway, which was a modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition, was announced Monday by the Defense Department.

Work is expected to be completed in December 2022 in U.S. and foreign plants. Thirty-percent will be performed in the company’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas; 25 percent in El Segundo, Calif.; 20 percent in Warton, United Kingdom; 10 percent in Orlando, Fla.; and 5 percent each on Nashua, N.H.; Nagoya, Japan, and Baltimore, Maryland.

Australia will pay $108.2 million and Norway $43.1 million under a cooperative agreement. The international partner funds in the full amount will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

Australia received its first F-35s last December, and Norway received them in November 2017.

Australia and Norway are among six NATO countries that have received the planes, including the United States, Britain, Italy and the Netherlands. Two other nations that also participated in the aircraft’s development — Canada, Denmark and Turkey — are scheduled to receive the F-35.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Defense-News/2019/04/02/F-35s-for-Turkey-on-hold-as-US-approves-sales-for-Australia-Norway/3891554217447/.

Rabbi leads US evangelicals in visit to Muslim Azerbaijan

March 07, 2019

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A group of evangelical pastors from the U.S. visited the predominantly Muslim Shiite nation of Azerbaijan to promote interfaith dialogue and highlight cooperation with Israel, with pastors saying Thursday the visit has already challenged their views about the potential for coexistence in America’s polarized landscape.

New York-based Rabbi Marc Schneier, who led the evangelical delegation, told The Associated Press from the capital of Baku that this was the first ever Christian evangelical delegation to visit Azerbaijan.

Most of Azerbaijan’s population of 10 million are Shiite but it’s also home to Sunnis, Christians and around 30,000 Jews, said the rabbi. The country shares borders with both Iran and Russia. The group, which included 12 U.S. pastors, met President Ilham Aliyev, the foreign minister, Muslim sheikhs, local church leaders, and Israel’s ambassador.

Schneier said Aliyev announced during the delegation’s visit that the country’s first-ever Jewish cultural center would be built in Baku with Kosher dining options and a hotel to accommodate Jewish guests.

The delegation also visited a Jewish school where children sang Hebrew songs for Israel. “I literally had to pinch— I had to pinch myself,” Schneier said. “Here I am in a Muslim majority country being welcomed into a Jewish school with all these Jewish children singing Israeli songs. It’s just a phenomenon that one would be able to experience anything like that.”

Schneier heads the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding based in New York and founded The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, New York. He is at the forefront of building ties between Jews and Muslims in the U.S. and the Middle East. Through greater interreligious dialogue, he’s pushed for closer relations between Muslim leaders and the state of Israel.

Last year, there were visits by U.S. evangelicals to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates— two countries seeking to strengthen ties with the Trump administration through his evangelical base of supporters. The outreach is happening as Gulf Arab states simultaneously take their once-private outreach to Israel more public and work to isolate Iran.

Unlike Arab Gulf states, Azerbaijan already has diplomatic relations with Israel, its national carrier flies direct to Tel Aviv and its president hosted Israel’s prime minister in 2016. Pastor Adam Mesa, who leads the Abundant Living Family Church in Rancho Cucamonga, California, said it was his first time in a Muslim majority country. He was encouraged to take part in the trip because of Azerbaijan’s supportive Israeli stance and interreligious efforts.

For many U.S. evangelicals, support for Israel is at the very core of their faith. Most believe that before Jesus can return, Jews have to go back to the Holy Land. They also believe the return of the Messiah will follow the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, also the site of Islam’s sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

“There’s been this polarization in our country that we’re supposed to be separatists from one another and we’re supposed to not interact with one another,” Mesa said. “It’s incredible that a Muslim majority country is the one that has to actually lead the charge on religious dialogue and community and solidarity.”

He said his talks in Azerbaijan with Catholics, Jews and Muslim sheikhs held no friction, resentment or prejudging. “I think we really need to bring that attitude back to America,” he said. “I really want to emphasize that to my church and other political leaders.”

Pastor Calvin Battle, who leads Destiny Christian Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, described the visit as “absolutely incredible.” It was also his first time visiting a Muslim country and his first time in a dialogue with sheikhs and learning “how similar” the Abrahamic faiths are.

“I have to admit it’s kind of impaired my ignorances concerning the area and the region and what I came in with, presuppositions concerning the people,” he said. More than just promoting inter-religious tolerance, Azerbaijan too sees political currency in its outreach with Christians and Jews.

“From a political point of view, listen there is no question you know that Azerbaijan is looking to strengthen its relationship with the U.S. administration, with the United States Congress. Israel is very much a conduit to that,” Schneier said.

Azerbaijan’s president has maintained close ties with the West, helping protect its energy and security interests and to counterbalance Russia’s influence in the strategic Caspian region. At the same time, Aliyev’s government has long faced criticism in the West for alleged human rights abuses and suppression of dissent.

Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov contributed from Moscow.

US says closing consulate in Jerusalem no policy shift

March 04, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — The United States has officially shuttered its consulate in Jerusalem, downgrading the status of its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians by folding it into the U.S. Embassy to Israel.

For decades, the consulate functioned as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians. Now, that outreach will be handled by a Palestinian affairs unit, under the command of the embassy. The symbolic shift hands authority over U.S. diplomatic channels with the West Bank and Gaza to ambassador David Friedman, a longtime supporter and fundraiser for the West Bank settler movement and fierce critic of the Palestinian leadership.

The announcement from the State Department came early Monday in Jerusalem, the merger effective that day. “This decision was driven by our global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements and operations,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement. “It does not signal a change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip.”

In a farewell video addressed to the consulate’s Palestinian partners, Consul General Karen Sasahara, who is leaving her post as the unofficial U.S. ambassador to the Palestinians and will not be replaced, maintains that new Palestinian unit at the embassy will carry forward the mission of the consulate, “in support of the strengthening of American-Palestinian ties, to boost economic opportunities for the Palestinians and facilitate cultural and educational exchanges.”

When first announced by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in October, the move infuriated Palestinians, fueling their suspicions that the U.S. was recognizing Israeli control over east Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories that Palestinians seek for a future state.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat called the move “the final nail in the coffin” for the U.S. role in peacemaking. The downgrade is just the latest in a string of divisive decisions by the Trump administration that have backed Israel and alienated the Palestinians, who say they have lost faith in the U.S. administration’s role as a neutral arbiter in peace process.

Last year the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocated its embassy there, upending U.S. policy toward one of the most explosive issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians in turn cut off most ties with the administration.

The administration also has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, including assistance to hospitals and peace-building programs. It has cut funding to the U.N. agency that provides aid to Palestinians classified as refugees. Last fall, it shut down the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington.

The Trump administration has cited the reluctance of Palestinian leaders to enter peace negotiations with Israel as the reason for such punitive measures, although the U.S. has yet to present its much-anticipated but still mysterious “Deal of the Century” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, announced last month that the U.S. would unveil the deal after Israeli elections in April. The Palestinian Authority has preemptively rejected the plan, accusing the U.S. of bias toward Israel.

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

UN adds leader of outlawed Pakistan group to sanctions list

May 02, 2019

ISLAMABAD (AP) — In a major diplomatic win for India, the United Nations added the leader of an outlawed Pakistani militant group to its sanctions blacklist Wednesday after the group claimed responsibility for a February suicide attack in disputed Kashmir that killed 40 Indian soldiers.

Sanctions against Masood Azhar were confirmed by Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal at an urgently held news conference in Islamabad. Azhar’s addition to the Security Council’s Islamic State and al-Qaida blacklist includes a travel ban and freeze on his assets as well as an arms embargo.

The development came less than three months after Azhar’s Jaish-e-Mohammad group claimed responsibility for the Feb. 14 attack in Kashmir, which is split between the two countries and is claimed by both in its entirety. The clashes brought the two nuclear rivals to the brink of war.

India had intensified its lobbying to have Azhar blacklisted after the killing of its soldiers and New Delhi quickly welcomed the Security Council decision. Sanctions against Azhar had been delayed because Security Council member China had blocked them on three previous occasions. But the council went ahead after China no longer objected.

Azhar was blacklisted for his leadership of the al-Qaida-linked Jaish-i-Mohammad. The official listing by the U.N. sanctions committee said the 50-year-old Azhar was associated with al-Qaida by supporting its activities including by supplying arms and recruiting members, and for financially supporting Jaish-i-Mohammed after he was released from prison in India in 1999 in exchange for 155 passengers on an Indian Airlines flight hijacked to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

As a group, Jaish-i-Mohammed had been put on the sanctions blacklist in 2001 for its ties to “Al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban.” The U.N. listing noted that 2008 recruitment posters for Jaish-i-Mohammed “contained a call from Azhar for volunteers to join the fight in Afghanistan against Western forces.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter that “today is a day that would make every Indian proud! I thank the global community and all those who believe in humanitarian values for their support.”

Days after the Feb. 14 Kashmir attack, India responded by launching an airstrike in northwest Pakistan that caused no casualties. Pakistan then responded on Feb. 27 by shooting down two Indian warplanes and capturing a pilot, who was later returned.

Timely intervention by the international community defused tensions between the two South Asian nuclear powers, who have fought three wars since gaining independence in 1947. Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, said the Trump administration commends the decision to sanction Azhar. Azhar’s sanctioning comes weeks after Washington said it was seeking to have him put on the U.N. blacklist. Pakistan is a key ally of the U.S. in its fight against extremism.

A senior U.S. administration official told reporters that “after 10 years China has done the right thing by lifting its hold on this designation.” The official, who insisted on speaking anonymously, said Britain and France joined the U.S. in putting pressure on China after the Feb. 14 attack, and Beijing seems to have understood “that it is increasingly important that its actions on the international stage on terrorism matched its rhetoric.”

The official said the Trump administration is watching to see if Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s commitment to crack down on militants in the country “will translate into irreversible steps to end terrorist and militant safe havens inside Pakistan.”

Khan has ordered the takeover of assets and property of Jaish-i-Mohammed and dozens of banned militant organizations that operate in Pakistan. Bushra Aziz, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Embassy to the U.S. in Washington, said the country is resolved to countering terrorism and claims that no other country can match Pakistan’s efforts in the fight. Aziz said terrorism is a menace to the world and also criticized India’s actions against residents of Kashmir.

Pakistan has said authorities have detained dozens of people suspected of involvement in the Kashmir attack after receiving a file with intelligence on the attack from New Delhi. Pakistan said its probe did not establish any direct link between Azhar or his group and the attack that killed the Indian soldiers. However, Islamabad has sought more evidence from New Delhi so that it can act against Azhar and his group.

Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed reported in Islamabad and AP writer Ashok Sharma reported from New Delhi, India. AP writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.

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