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US federal court orders Chinese Muslims in Guantánamo released

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In a rebuke to the Bush administration's policy on terrorist detainees, a US federal court has ordered the release of 17 Chinese Muslims held for several years without trial in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. District Judge Ricardo Urbina said Tuesday that the men must appear in court on Friday and that they would subsequently be resettled in the United States. The Justice Department said it would seek an emergency stay on the ruling.

The detainees are all members of the Uighur (pronounced WEE-gur) minority in western China and were arrested after the US invasion of Afghanistan. They were cleared by the US military for release in 2004, but weren't sent back to China due to fears of persecution, and no other country has agreed to accept them.

Lawyers for the men expressed relief and said it was a landmark ruling as it involved the release of Guantánamo detainees in the US, Reuters reports. The 17 detainees had fled China and had been living in a camp in Afghanistan, then fled into Pakistan after the US bombing campaign began in October 2001.

In 2006, five other Chinese Muslims were sent to Albania to seek asylum. China has tried to suppress an alleged Uighur separatist movement that it blames for violent attacks on security personnel in its far west. That has put a stop to US efforts to repatriate Uighurs held in Guantánamo, a US military facility.

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