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Beijing Vows to Protect Chinese in Africa From al-Qaida Threat



China says it will protect its citizens in Africa, after a report that al-Qaida is vowing to avenge Uighur deaths in Xinjiang. Beijing also says it will stay in close communication and cooperation with neighboring countries that have Uighur communities, including Pakistan.

A London risk analysis firm says Al Qaida's North African wing, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, vows to target the 50,000 Chinese workers in Algeria and elsewhere in Africa.

Risk analysis firm Stirling Assynt says recent protests and the subsequent crackdown in China's Xinjiang region aroused sympathy in many parts of the Muslim world for China's minority Uighurs.

More than 180 people died in ethnic violence that began on July 5 in Urumqi, the capital of China's Xinjiang region. According to the official death toll, most of the victims are Han Chinese.

Qin Gang is a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry.

Although he does not specifically refer to the threat, Qin says China will take all necessary measures to protect Chinese institutions and people in Africa.

Three weeks ago, Al-Qaida militants ambushed Algerian security forces protecting Chinese engineers, killing 24 Algerians.

The Uighurs are Muslims who speak a Turkic language and are ethnically different from China's majority Han. They once dominated Xinjiang, a vast region in western China, but Beijing has encouraged Han to move to the region to find work, so Uighurs now make up only about half the population.

Uighurs complain they face discrimination from the Han, and that the government restricts their religious practices, as well as travel. But Beijing argues the Uighurs receive benefits the Han do not, such as the right to have more than one child, and preferential university places.

Beijing blames what it calls the "three forces" of separatism, terrorism and extremism, for causing the violence in Xinjiang.

Spokesman Qin also said Tuesday that neighboring Asian nations should enhance cooperation to combat the "three forces" and safeguard peace and tranquility. He says China and Pakistan are staying in close communication and cooperation.

Pakistan borders China and there are allegations that some Uighur separatists live in Pakistan.

The security crackdown continues in Urumqi, after two Uighurs were shot dead by police on Monday. Also, a letter has been posted online, signed by more than 100 Chinese writers and intellectuals, calling for the release of Ilham Tohti.

Tohti is an outspoken Uighur economist who disappeared from his Beijing home last week. The letter says his popular Web site promoted dialogue between Han Chinese and Uighurs. But in a televised speech last week, Xinjiang Governor Nur Bekri accused Tohti's site of helping "to orchestrate the incitement and spread propaganda."

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