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Grandmother who Beijing fears

China has accused a 58-year-old exiled grandmother, mother of 11 children and a former millionaire of plotting the nation’s deadliest riots in decades that killed 156 and injured over 1,000 on Sunday. Reshma Patil reports.

world Updated: Jul 09, 2009 12:18 IST
Reshma Patil

The rebels
World Uighur Congress
Association of Uighur diaspora groups, primarily those in the West, that is led by Rebiya Kadeer. The Congress calls for a democratic China and autonomy for Xinjiang.
East Turkestan Islamic Movement
An Uighur Islamic terrorist group that wants an independent state. Proscribed by China and the US. China blames it for blasts inside the country.
Turkestan Islamic Movement
Islamicist Uighur terror group supposedly affiliated to Al Qaeda and based in Waziristan. Shadowy leader Shaykh Bashir has called for Islamic conquest of all China.
China has accused a 58-year-old exiled grandmother, mother of 11 children and a former millionaire of plotting the nation’s deadliest riots in decades that killed 156 and injured over 1,000 on Sunday.

Over a decade ago, Rebiya Kadeer was part of China’s political elite and nominated to a top government advisory panel and business forums. She was on the list of China’s rich and famous as the wealthiest Uighur businesswoman in northwest Xinjiang with an estimated 25-million-dollar empire.

The remote oil-rich province of Xinjiang --- it also borders parts of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan --- simmers with a deep-rooted divide between ethnic Uighur Muslims and migrant Han Chinese. On Sunday, the tension erupted in riots that armed police struggled to control in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi.

China quickly blamed Kadeer who heads the separatist World Uighur Congress, for instigating rioters through the Internet and telephone --- charges she denied. The official evidence handed to State-run media included a recent call to her brother in Urumqi, when she reportedly said: We know a lot of things have happened.’’

“Allegations against Kadeer need to be investigated but she is certainly not the mastermind behind the riots,’’ Rohan Gunaratna, a China terrorism expert who heads the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, told HT.

A section of the Uighurs are affiliated to groups seeking an independent Turkestan state and protection of their unique cultural and religious rights allegedly stifled under Chinese control. Rights groups claim that the controls include prohibiting Uighur students and government staff from fasting during Ramadan.

“There are some members of the World Uighur Congress with links to terrorism,’’ Gunaratna said. “A number of Uighur separatist organisations overseas, including some terrorist groups, are radicalising the Uighur community with propaganda.’’

As Kadeer championed Uighur rights, she fell from official grace and was mired in allegations of tax frauds. In 1999, she was jailed for allegedly compromising national security and state secrets. One reason she got into trouble was reportedly for sending newspaper clippings about Uighurs to her husband in the US. Under diplomatic pressure, Kadeer was released from jail in 2005 and flew to the US.

Last March, Beijing blamed the Tibetan leader Dalai Lama as a ‘separatist’ for sabotaging stability through riots in Lhasa, allegations he repeatedly denied. This week, the Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, headlined Kadeer as the 'Uighur Dalai Lama'. A Chinese terrorism analyst quoted in the State-run media said that the Urumqi riot was an ‘intentional imitation’ of the Lhasa unrest. Kadeer’s memoir Dragon Fighter released in April and includes an introduction by the Dalai Lama.