Middle East

Turkey summons Chinese ambassador over response to Uighur claims

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey called in China’s ambassador on Tuesday after his embassy said it had “the right to respond” to Turkish opposition leaders who criticized China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims when they issued statements referring to violence three decades ago.

The politicians, IYI Party leader Meral Aksener and Ankara mayor Mansur Yavas of the main opposition CHP, had marked what they called the 31st anniversary of a brief uprising by Uighurs against the government in China’s far west.

“We will not remain silent about their persecution” and martyrdom, Aksener said on Twitter. Yavas said: “we still feel the pain of the massacre” in 1990.

Ambassador Liu Shaobin was summoned to the ministry after his embassy issued a statement on Twitter denouncing the comments.

“The Chinese side determinedly opposes any person of power that in any way challenges China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and strongly condemns this,” the embassy said.

“The Chinese side reserves its legitimate right to respond.”

China has come under scrutiny over its treatment of its Uighurs minority, a mostly Muslim people who speak a Turkic language. China has denied mistreating Uighurs.

UN experts estimate at least a million Uighurs and other Muslims are held in detention centers in northwest China’s Xinjiang. The United States said in January China had committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” by repressing Uighurs.

Many of the 40,000 Uighurs in Turkey have criticised the government’s approach to China after it approved an extradition treaty in December, which they fear may lead to them being sent back to China to face vague charges which they deny.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday that some people in Turkey were encouraging terrorists and separatism in China with their remarks on Twitter.

“We hope that people in Turkey from all walks of life can correctly, rationally and objectively view the firm position of China to protect its national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said, at a daily news conference in Beijing.

Hundreds of people protested as China’s foreign minister visited Ankara last month.

Aksener and Yavas are seen as potential rivals to President Tayyip Erdogan in elections slated for 2023.

Reporting by Yesim Dikmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; writing by Jonathan Spicer; editing by Ece Toksabay and Philippa Fletcher

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator wearing a mask participates in a protest against Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit, in Istanbul, Turkey, March 25, 2021. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan/File Photo

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