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Uyghurs in Turkey call for boycott of Beijing Games

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ISTANBUL: Hundreds of protesters from China’s Muslim Uyghur community rallied in Istanbul on Friday to call for a boycott of the Winter Olympics opening in Beijing and to urge participants to speak out against China’s treatment of the ethnic minority.

The Beijing Olympics opened in the shadow of a diplomatic boycott over China’s human rights record and devoid of most spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“China stop the genocide”, “Muslims don’t sleep, stand up for your brothers”, chanted the protesters, who briefly blocked a road and scuffled with lines of Turkish riot police as they tried to march up a hill towards the Chinese consulate.

“These Olympics are being held not on snow, but on blood,” said one protester, 26-year-old student Abdullah Mudinoglu.

Many protesters, gathered on Istanbul’s waterfront, waved the blue-and-white flags of the independence movement of East Turkestan, a group Beijing says threatens the stability of its far western region of Xinjiang.

Some 50,000 Uyghurs are estimated to live in Turkey, the largest Uyghur diaspora outside Central Asia. Turks have close ethnic, religious and linguistic ties to the Uyghurs.

“We call on all humanity to boycott and not watch the Winter Olympics, and for sports people and participants not to take part in these bloody games,” Hidayet Oguzhan, head of the East Turkestan Education and Solidarity Association, told the crowd.

U.N. experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people, mainly from the Uyghur and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in forced labour camps in Xinjiang since 2016.

China initially denied such camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism. It denies all accusations of abuse.

“We are completely against the Olympics being held there with such genocide being perpetrated against the Uyghurs,” said 28-year-old Sufinur Omercan at Friday’s protest.

“My father… was a historian and was thrown in prison because of the columns and books which he wrote. I can’t get any news on him since 2017.”

Last month, 19 Uyghurs filed a criminal complaint with a Turkish prosecutor against Chinese officials, accusing them of committing genocide, torture, rape and crimes against humanity. The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Japan and Denmark have said they will not send official diplomatic delegations to the Games to protest China’s rights record.

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