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Muslims, Chinese tense in ancient Kashgar

The muezzin's call to prayer at Kashgar's main Id Kah mosque is a loud reminder that millions of Muslims here in China's far west answer to a higher authority than the Communist Party.

world Updated: Apr 04, 2008 12:46 IST

The muezzin's call to prayer at Kashgar's main Id Kah mosque is a loud reminder that millions of Muslims here in China's far west answer to a higher authority than the Communist Party.

Muslim residents of this dust-coated 2,000-year-old Silk Road city in Xinjiang province express quiet anger when asked about recent clashes in a nearby city between Muslims and Chinese police, calling it just another example of oppression by Beijing.

"There is violence, here and there, sometimes. But you people will not hear about it, will you?" a carpet merchant, who gave his name as Musa, told a foreign journalist while flashing a wry, knowing smile.

About 1,000 people fought with police in the remote desert town of Khotan on March 23-24, according to exiles from the local Uighur minority, a central Asian people who are the dominant ethnic group in Xinjiang and have long chafed under Beijing's strict control.

The clash was sparked by the death in police custody of a Uighur businessman and a local ban on wearing headscarves, the exiles said, although Chinese authorities in Khotan blamed it on "separatist" forces.

To the residents of Kashgar, 400 barren kilometres from Khotan and close to the borders with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, it is a familiar story.

The gulf between China and the roughly eight million Muslim residents of Xinjiang is on clear display here in Kashgar, 3,500 kilometres from Beijing and even farther in cultural and religious terms.