August 13, 2009
Filed at 5:49 a.m. ET
ALMATY (Reuters) - Hundreds of Uighurs rallied in Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty on Thursday to mourn those who died in violent clashes in the neighboring Xinjiang region of China last month and to call for its independence.
Kazakhstan is home to the largest Uighur community outside China. About 500 people, many wearing the blue badges with white crescents of the Uighur independence movement, gathered at a mosque for a traditional ceremony.
In Xinjiang's worst ethnic unrest in decades, Uighurs staged protests in the regional capital Urumqi on July 5 following a clash among migrant workers at a factory in south China that had led to two Uighur deaths.
The Urumqi violence left 197 people dead and more than 1,600 wounded, mostly members of the China's ethnic Han majority, according to Chinese authorities.
Han Chinese launched revenge attacks on Uighurs in Urumqi days later. About 1,000 people, mostly Uighurs, have been detained in an ensuing crackdown by security forces.
Han migration into Xinjiang, home to Muslim Uighurs who speak a Turkic language and whose culture has strong links to Central Asia, has helped fuel the conflict.
"What is our goal? We want an independent state," Kakhraman Khodzhaberdiyev, a vice president of the U.S.-based World Uyghur Congress, told the Almaty meeting.
"The current autonomy (of Xinjiang) is not real and we demand that its status be changed as a first step."
Another Uighur community leader, Abdulla Ushurov, attacked what he said were Chinese attempts to portray Uighur protests as purely criminal riots.
"You cannot say that a group of people just started crushing everything," he said.
"These are being described as criminal acts but it is a century-long fight for independence."
Police in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, also home to a significant Uighur minority, detained two Uighur leaders after a similar rally this week, saying it had not been given official permission.
The Almaty city government had permitted the Thursday meeting.
(Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Andrew Roche)