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China Fails to Gag Uighur Leader in Australia


China has failed to stop exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer from addressing Australia's National Press Club in Canberra. Beijing considers Kadeer to be a terrorist and has attempted to derail other appearances during her visit to Australia.

Chinese authorities had wanted Rebiya Kadeer's speech at the National Press Club in Canberra to be cancelled.

China accuses the exiled dissident of inciting riots by Muslim minority Uighurs in its Xinjiang region. Beijing says the violence left almost 200 people dead and more than 1,700 injured, figures disputed by Uighur activists, who claim the number of dead is far higher.

Officials at the Press Club in Canberra refused to buckle under pressure exerted by China and Kadeer's speech went ahead as scheduled.

The Uighur leader thanked Australia for standing up to the Chinese and for allowing her to promote her people's cause.

Speaking through a translator, Kadeer told the audience in the Australian capital that many Western countries face the full might of Chinese propaganda over Uighur and Tibetan autonomy.

"It is a fact that the Chinese government has been exerting enormous pressure on Western democracies because of its huge trade in order to dampen down the Uighur and Tibetan issues in all these different countries," she said.

The Australian government has warned that Chinese diplomats must voice their opposition to Kadeer's public appearances in an appropriate way. The government made the warning after officials in Melbourne, where a documentary about Kadeer was shown at a film festival, complained about pressure from Chinese officials.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith defended Canberra's decision to grant her a visa.

The Uighurs are ethnically close to communities in Central Asia and speak a Turkic language. Most are Muslims.

The Uighurs complain that China discriminates against them, represses their Islamic religious practices and practices and has engaged in decades of cultural genocide.

The Chinese government has dismissed Kadeer's comments, saying she is an extremist trying to fuel separatist sentiment.

Beijing accuses Kadeer's World Uighur Congress of being a vehicle for violent radicals agitating for a separate East Turkistan homeland in western China. She was arrested in 1999 and convicted of "providing secret information to foreigners". After six years in prison, Beijing allowed her to go into exile in the United States.

Kadeer has strongly denied any involved in recent unrest in western Xinjiang and says she is committed to peaceful means of protest.

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