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China's media blackout after Xinjiang attack

Josef Litobarski
6 August 2008

Chinese police have instituted a media blackout in Kashgar, Xinjiang province, after Monday's attack in which two men drove a lorry into a group of paramilitary policemen. Sixteen policemen were killed when the attackers crashed into them and started throwing homemade explosives.

After the attack, internet access was shut down across the city. Checkpoints were put in place, and police were reported to be going from house to house in Uighur neighbourhoods, checking ID cards with portable scanners against electronic databases of dissidents. Foreign journalists are reportedly under surveillance, with plainclothes police assigned to follow them around the city. Police entered the hotel room of one AFP journalist and ordered him to delete photographs he took at the scene of the bombing.

The government of Japan has threatened to lodge a formal complaint after two Japanese journalists were beaten-up and their equipment smashed by Xinjiang border police. Official Chinese media reports that the border police have apologised and offered to buy the journalists new equipment, but assert that the incident was the fault of the journalists for "forcing their way into a military area."

The toD verdict: Today, President Bush announced he had "deep concerns" about human rights in China. Last month, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned China not to use the threat of terrorism to crack down on political opponents. Yet warnings from the US administration won't carry a lot of weight with China, particularly as China sees the US using the "war on terror" to justify behaviour - from Guantanam Bay to rendition flights - which is at best legally grey and at worst criminal.

Furthermore, despite warning China against repressive policies in Xinjiang, the State Department generally publicly supports China's war on terror, and accepts claims that links exist between Uighur militants and al-Qaida. In fact, there has been an overall hardening of US policy towards the Xinjiang issue since 11 September, which some experts see as a bid by the US for warmer relations with China.

Most of the violence in Xinjiang has been on a relatively small scale, which does not suggest groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) are as large or well-funded as China claims. It is difficult for experts to reliably assess what is actually happening in Xinjiang, however, because of restrictions on reporting from the area.

Kurexi Maihesuti, vice-chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, has denied that China had been heavy-handed in its war on terror, saying that the government "hasn't been over the top in cracking down on the damaging actions of terrorist forces and groups... Any country in the world would step up security ahead of such an important event as the Olympics."

President of Mauritania overthrown in coup

President Abdallahi, the first freely-elected President of Mauritania, is being held prisoner by the country's military, who have announced they have taken control of the government in a coup. President Abdallahi had recently sacked several senior army officers, many of whom have now taken part in the coup against him. There are no reports of violence.

Mauritania is one of the world's poorest countries, and has been plagued by a series of military coups (the last in 2005) since independence from France. The recent increase in global food prices has put a severe strain on Mauritania and its government, causing the President to replace the entire cabinet earlier this year.

Second day of Kashmir protests

Hundreds of Muslim protestors in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, have clashed with security forces for the second day running. The protests were sparked by earlier Hindu protests against the government after it reversed its decision to build shelters for Hindu pilgrims at a shrine in Jammu-Kashmir. Two Hindu protestors were shot dead on Monday, and fourteen police and paramilitary soldiers were injured. Tensions are high between Hindu and Muslim communities in the region after a 14 hour gun-battle between Indian and Pakistani soldiers last month breached the Kashmir ceasefire. There were reports of small-arms fire along the Kashmir border today.

Pakistani militants killed attempting to bomb school

Three Islamist militants were killed when their own bombs detonated accidentally as they tried to plant them in a girl's school in Pakistan's Swat valley region on Wednesday. The region has seen heavy fighting since last week, with nearly 150 people having been killed in clashes between pro-Taliban militants and Pakistani security forces. Elsewhere in the valley, one militant and a civilian were killed in fighting.

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