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Uighurs Mark Anniversary of Deadly Ethnic Protests in China

Uighur rights groups and activists rallied here in Washington on Monday to mark the one year anniversary of China's worst ethnic violence in decades, which occurred in the remote western region of Xinjiang, and to protest what they say is China's repression of Uighurs, the regions largest ethnic minority group. VOA's William Ide in Washington has more.

Dozens of Uighurs and activists rallied outside the Chinese embassy to pay their respects to those who lost their lives in last year's violence.

Arafat Dilshat, a Uighur supporter, was among those who participated in the rally.

"Over 1,600 people died," said Arafat Dilshat. "They were known as Uighurs, so we're holding this protest today to remember all of those - our people, our brothers, sisters, family members - who died that day."

The Chinese government accuses overseas Uighur groups of plotting the violence last July. It says about 200 people died in the unrest and that about 1,700 were injured. Tensions between Xinjiang's minority Uighurs and majority Han Chinese migrants spiraled out of control last year on streets of the capital, Urumqi.

Louisa Greve of the National Endowment for Democracy attended the rally and says the Chinese government is covering up the truth about the unrest.

"Today marks a really solemn and horrible anniversary of the day when Uighurs in Urumqi went on the streets to have a peaceful protest and, unfortunately, were met with deadly live fire, which has been documented now in some new reports that are making clear the Chinese government is covering up what had happened and what it did to its citizens," said Louisa Greve.

Chinese authorities blame separtists who want to create an independent nation in the region for last year's violence.

Uighur rights groups around the world have called on Beijing to allow an independent investigation into the incident.

Last week, the Washington-based Uighur Human Rights Project, released a new report on the unrest. In it, the group details what it calls a violent effort by Chinese authorities to suppress peaceful protests.

The Chinese government suspended international telephone calls from the region and Xinjiang's Internet service for more than six months following the clashes. The government has arrested and tried hundreds of demonstrators, sentencing dozens of them to death.

Because of its rich oil and gas deposits, Xinjiang is a strategically important region for China.

Beijing officials have repeatedly stressed that all ethnic groups in China are treated equally. But human rights groups say discriminatory economic and cultural policies against the Uighurs raised ethnic tensions to a boiling point in Xinjiang, culminating in last July's protests.

In the Uighur Human Rights Project's newly released report "Can Anyone Hear Us?" the group says that the Uighur language has been virtually eliminated from school instruction in Xinjiang. It also says that hundreds of books on Uighur history and culture have been banned and burned.

Ilham Tohti is an ethnic Uighur and an economist at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing. He says Uighurs are becoming increasingly pessimistic about their situation.

Tohti says that Uighurs do not trust the government, the military, the police and Han Chinese. He says many do not even trust members of their own community because they feel that those around them could be spying on them for the government.

China's state media have marked the anniversary of the incident by broadcasting numerous television reports about how life has improved in Xinjiang. Those reports, however, avoided mentioning last year's violence and did not include discussion of the causes of the unrest.