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China, Taiwan to speed up broad trade pact

China, Taiwan to speed up broad trade pact

BEIJING (Reuters) – China and Taiwan agreed to speed up the process of negotiating a broad free trade-style agreement at preliminary talks this week, a Beijing official said on Wednesday.

Taiwan officials aim to sign the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) to slash tariffs in early 2010, but China has hinted previously it could take longer.

“At talks yesterday, both sides said they wanted to accelerate the process of negotiating and signing the framework agreement,” Yang Yi, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said.

Taiwan hopes the agreement will open the mainland market to its goods and services and lead to closer ties with other Asian countries. Some businessmen, though, worry about a flood of Chinese goods in the relatively small Taiwan market.

Under the pact, tariffs would fall to varying degrees, remaining highest for Taiwan sectors that might lose ground to a greater flow of goods from China.

China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to the island. But ties have warmed since 2008 when Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou took office pushing for closer trade links.

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Hu leaves G8 as new protests erupt in China

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China’s President Hu Jintao arrives to attend a news conference with Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome July 6, 2009.

Hu leaves G8 as new protests erupt in China

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Armed Chinese soldiers in riot gear block a main street leading to the end of the city occupied by ethnic Uighurs in Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region July 8, 2009.

URUMQI, China (Reuters) – Banks of anti-riot police tried to drive a wedge into a crowd of about 1,000 Han Chinese protesters on Wednesday in Urumqi after 156 people were killed at the weekend in the region’s worst ethnic violence for decades.

Urumqi, capital of the far-flung northwestern region of Xinjiang, imposed an overnight curfew after thousands of Han stormed through its streets demanding redress and sometimes extracting bloody vengeance on Uighurs for Sunday’s violence.

There were scuffles in the volatile crowd on Wednesday as police and security forces seized apparent ringleaders, prompting cries of “release them, release them”.

President Hu Jintao abandoned plans to attend a G8 summit in Italy, returning home to monitor developments in energy-rich Xinjiang, where 1,080 people have been wounded and 1,434 arrested since Sunday.

Financial markets again appeared unaffected and life was returning to the streets of Uighur neighborhoods. But residents said night-time arrests were continuing and they were quietly preparing to defend against further Han attacks.

Urumqi airport was crowded with people anxious to leave. “We fear Xinjiang is not safe any more,” said one passenger who refused to be identified.

The city was on edge. In one downtown street, two young boys were surrounded by an angry mob, with dozens trying to pull them down and grabbing at their hair.

Volatile and swelling Han crowds protested against security forces seizing young Han men.

“Why are you catching Han Chinese? They are only trying to protect us,” said one woman in the crowd, bickering with police.

Rumors swirled. A group of Uighur men said they were convinced two locals died in Tuesday’s confrontations and that there were many more deaths across the city.

A man in his 50s, who gave name as Mohammed Ali, said he had heard from neighbors and friends that two men had died and two had been seriously wounded.

“Now we are scared to go anywhere,” he said. “Doing even simple things becomes frightening.”

“BLOOD FOR BLOOD INCOMPATIBLE WITH RULE OF LAW”

Police say Sunday’s clashes were triggered by a brawl between Uighurs and Han at a factory in south China prompted by a rumor Uighurs had raped two women. Police have detained 15 people in connection with the factory brawl, including two suspected of spreading rumours on the Internet.

“If a wrong is avenged with another wrong, there would be no end to it,” the state-owned English-language China Daily said in an editorial.

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China police use tear gas to disperse Xinjiang protests

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Policemen carry a woman who had fainted on a street in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region July 7, 2009. REUTER/China Daily

China police use tear gas to disperse Xinjiang protests

URUMQI, China (Reuters) – Riot police fired tear gas to disperse rock-throwing Han Chinese protesters who took to the streets in the capital of the Muslim region of Xinjiang on Tuesday, two days after ethnic unrest left 156 dead and more than 1,000 wounded.

Hundreds of protesters from China’s predominant Han ethnic group smashed shops owned by Uighurs, a Turkic largely Islamic people who share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia.

Uighurs protesting against the arrest of relatives also clashed with police. Many were women, wailing and waving the identity cards of husbands, brothers or sons they say were arbitrarily seized in a sweeping reaction to Sunday’s rioting in the city of Urumqi.

“My husband was taken away yesterday by police. They didn’t say why. They just took him away,” a woman who identified herself as Maliya told Reuters.

Fighting broke out briefly when Uighur protesters advanced towards hundreds of anti-riot police carrying clubs and shields on Tuesday, but there was no bloodshed.

Along with Tibet, Xinjiang is one of the most politically sensitive regions in China and in both places the government has sought to maintain its grip by controlling religious and cultural life while promising economic growth and prosperity.

Some protesters vowed defiance and denounced the arrests after the protest in Saimachang, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Urumqi with small shops and brick-and-mud homes along dusty alleys.

Abdul Ali, a Uighur man in his 20s who had taken off his shirt, held up his clenched fist. “They’ve been arresting us for no reason, and it’s time for us to fight back,” he said.

Xinjiang has long been a hotbed of ethnic tensions, fostered by a yawning economic gap between Uighurs and Han Chinese, government controls on religion and culture and an influx of Han Chinese migrants who now are the majority in most key cities.

Beijing has poured cash into exploiting Xinjiang’s rich oil and gas deposits and consolidating its hold on a strategically vital frontierland that borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, but Uighurs say migrant Han are the main beneficiaries.

“TIME TO FIGHT BACK”

Part of the crowd briefly surged forward singing the Chinese national anthem before police drove them back with tear gas.

Anti-riot police armed with clubs and shields pushed protesters away from a Uighur neighbourhood but hundreds managed to break through police lines.

There was a standoff between police and a crowd of mainly Han Chinese and some Hui Muslims. They chanted slogans including “Unity is Strength” and “Defend Stability, Protect the People”.

Many of the Uighur protesters were women, wailing and waving the identity cards of husbands, brothers or sons they say were arbitrarily seized in a sweeping reaction to Sunday’s rioting in the city of Urumqi.

“My husband was taken away yesterday by police. They didn’t say why. They just took him away,” a woman who identified herself as Maliya told Reuters.

The crowd began to march towards the Xinjiang regional government, saying the government was too weak. “Now it’s time to go to the government,” one protester surnamed Zhang said.

Abdul Ali, a Uighur man in his 20s who had taken off his shirt, held up his clenched fist. “They’ve been arresting us for no reason, and it’s time for us to fight back,” he said.

Ali said three of his brothers and a sister were among 1,434 suspects taken into custody. Of the 156 killed, 27 were women.

Human rights groups have warned that a harsh crackdown on Uighurs in the wake of Sunday’s violence could merely exacerbate the grievances that fuelled ethnic tensions.

Urumqi Communist Party boss Li Zhi defended the crackdown.

“It should be said that they were all violent elements who wielded clubs and smashed, looted, burned and even murdered at the scene,” he told a news conference.

Earlier on Tuesday, Xinjiang’s Communist Party boss Wang Lequan said that although Sunday’s unrest had been quelled, “this struggle is far from over”.

Xinjiang’s state-run media quoted Wang as calling for officials to launch “a struggle against separatism”.

But Human Rights Watch’s Asia advocacy director Sophie Richardson called for an independent investigation.

UNREST SPREADING?

Some Xinjiang newspapers carried graphic pictures of the violence, including corpses, at least one of which showed a woman whose throat had been slashed.

Despite heightened security, some unrest appeared to be spreading in the volatile region, where long-standing ethnic tensions periodically erupt into bloodshed.

Police dispersed around 200 people at the Id Kah mosque in Kashgar in southern Xinjiang on Monday evening, Xinhua said.

The report did not say if police used force but said checkpoints had been set up at crossroads between Kashgar airport and downtown.

Almost half of Xinjiang’s 20 million people are Uighurs, while the population of Urumqi, which lies around 3,300 km (2,000 miles) west of Beijing, is mostly Han.

Chinese officials have already blamed the unrest on separatist groups abroad which it says want to create an independent homeland for Uighurs.

The Chinese embassy in the Netherlands was attacked by exiled pro-Uighur activists who smashed windows, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday. China condemned the attack.

(Additional reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison, Yu Le and Benjamin Kang Lim in Beijing; Paul Eckert in Washington; and Ben Blanchard in Shanghai)

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