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Q&A with Uighur spiritual leader Rebiya Kadeer

The Monitor spoke with the exiled mother figure for China's Uighurs about the deadly riots, independence, and China's use of the label of 'terrorist.'

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Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur political activist, blamed by China for violent unrest in its western Xinjiang region. She is asking for outside intervention to create a dialogue with Chinese authorities.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Kadeer spoke with the Monitor Saturday:

Q: Were you surprised at the fury and chaos on July 5?

A: I was quite surprised by the loss of so many lives. Initially the protest was peaceful. You could even see Uighurs in the crowd holding Chinese flags. There were women and children, and that seemed at first like a good thing. But the Uighurs were provoked by Chinese security forces – dogs, armored cars. What has not been noted are the plain clothes police who went in and provoked the Uighurs. My view is that the Chinese wanted a riot in order to justify a larger crackdown; its an attempt to create solidarity between the Han and the government at a time when there is insecurity. Provoking the crowd justifies that this was a Uighur mob.

Q: Some reports indicate that during the riots there were Han citizens helping and protecting Uighurs, and vice versa.

A: I am extremely grateful for both Han and Uighurs that protected each other in the riots. That should be the true relationship we should have with each other. But this Chinese government has created such a tragic situation, that it is not happening, generally, as it could.

Q: Several years ago, China tore down the bazaar around the old mosque in Kashgar, angering Uighurs. This year, the entire old city is being razed.

A: I believe the Chinese government is attempting to completely destroy the Uighur identity and culture. Wiping out the ancient city of Kashgar is part of that. Kashgar is the cradle of Uighur civilization, and represents the heart of the Uighur people. Razing it is like trying to bury the Uighurs.

Only when the international community begins to raise the issue is there a chance of this act being stopped. Only if the world pays the same attention to Uighurs as to Tibet and Darfur, is there a chance for this to change.

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