HOTAN, China – There was no sign of dissent in the bazaar, where men wove through the crowd on motorcycles with freshly butchered sheep draped behind them. But a Muslim merchant pinched his lips together with his fingers to show he could not talk freely.
The Chinese are too bad, really bad,” said Hama, who added that the Chinese had broken up a protest of about 200 people last month. He put his wrists together as if handcuffed. “I can’t say more or I’ll get arrested.”
Asgrapples with protests in Tibet, it also faces unrest on its Central Asian frontier.
Resentment against the Chinese has long simmered in this traditionally Muslim western region, which borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and. The problems in Xinjiang came on top of nearly a month of anti-government and protests in Tibet and other provinces with sizable populations.
Such clashes are growing as theapproach, with the world’s spotlight on China and its human rights record. However, the situation with the Muslim minority Uighurs (pronounced “Wee-gers”) is even more complicated because China worries about separatist sentiment and brands more militant Uighurs terrorists.
Human rights groups say China exaggerates such threats so it can clamp down on the Uighurs and arrest dissidents.
The Chinese blame last month’s protest in the jade-trading Silk Road town ofon al-Islami, a radical group that wants to create a worldwide Islamic state. But human rights groups and U.S.-government funded said demonstrators were protesting against a ban on head scarves in the workplace and demanding political prisoners be freed.
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