Ramadan crackdown in China


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05/09/2008 10:00- (SA)  

 Beijing - Authorities in China's Muslim-populated far northwest are seeking to prevent mass prayers and the distribution of religious material as part of a security crackdown for Ramadan, government notices said.

A series of attacks on police in Xinjiang around last month's Beijing Olympic Games left more than 20 officers and security guards dead, and at least as many attackers killed or arrested, in the biggest unrest there in years.

As the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began, local governments this week issued orders to clamp down on security in the region and stop its ethnic Muslim Uighur population from using the holy month to foment further unrest.

"Faced with recent violent and disruptive activities by religious extremists, separatists and terrorists, we must... step up ideological education of religious leaders and followers," a notice posted on Xinjiang's Zhaosu county website said.

The county government prohibited government officials, Communist Party members, teachers and students from observing Ramadan, while warning that "any person caught forcing another to observe Ramadan" would be punished.

"We must timely warn and stop religious believers from organising and planning large scale prayer groups and prevent any large crowd incidents that could harm social stability," said a notice on the Xinhe county website.

In Shaya county, patrols were stepped up around mosques and leading officials were urged to remain vigilant around the clock for any incidents that could result in social instability.

"The handing out of religious propaganda in public places by any work unit or individual is banned," the Shaya government said.

"We must strictly prohibit the playing of any audio-visual tapes, loud speaker announcements and religious drum rituals that could disrupt the Ramadan festival."

Xinjiang is a vast desert region bordering Central Asia that is home to 8.3 million Uighurs, many of whom say they have suffered decades of political and religious repression under Chinese rule.

The Uighurs established two short-lived East Turkestan republics in Xinjiang in the 1930s and 1940s, when Chinese central government control was weakened by civil war and Japanese invasion.

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