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Deadly Uighur riots may force policy debate in Beijing

in.reuters.com

Deadly Uighur riots may force policy debate in Beijing

BEIJING july 10 – The script is jarringly familiar. Bodies lie on riot-scarred streets of an ethnic minority area, troops fan out, unrest rumbles on and Beijing denounces overseas enemies bent on splitting China.

Less than 18 months ago, when the violence was in Tibet, China’s response appeared knee-jerk — a harsh crackdown and tight security ever since.

But as discontent played out in energy-rich Xinjiang this week, analysts say there was almost certainly a parallel round of debate taking place within the secretive Communist Party — about where policy on ethnic minorities went wrong.

Conservatives have been in the ascendant in recent years, presiding over a tightening of controls on religion and language and pushing a harsh response to the Tibetan violence that flared ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

But two explosions of deadly rioting barely over a year apart are an embarrassing public challenge to the rule of a government that has brooked little dissent since taking power in 1949.

“Frankly, coming up to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, it gives China a bit of a black eye to have these on-going problems,” said Dru Gladney, president of the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College in California.

The Communist Party has for decades swung between hardline policies that aim to crush dissent and weaken ethnic identity and softer approaches that attempt to make minorities feel they can have a dual identity, both Chinese and Tibetan or Uighur.

Those who favour a more conciliatory approach will now likely use the explosions of violence as evidence that Beijing cannot rule its vast hinterlands by coercion alone.

But China has poured cash into Xinjiang and Tibet along with its troops and many Han Chinese think that with development subsidies, the construction of schools and clinics and some affirmative action, the government has already done enough.

“In the past, there have been policies in favour of minorities, but many minorities have not been able to take advantage of these policies,” said Bo Zhiyue, a China politics expert at Singapore’s East Asian Institute.

“I don’t think there’s a fundamental policy problem, but it’s a fundamental governance issue,” he added, expressing a view shared by much of China’s elite.

UIGHURS UNHAPPY

Uighurs, however, say they have been left behind economically as Han Chinese dominate development opportunities, are unhappy that they cannot practise their religion as they wish and resent an inflow of migrants from the rest of China.

“One would hope this would make many Chinese policy-makers realise how deep the problems are in the region and how dissatisfied the Uighurs are,” said Gladney.

China has deflected debate about domestic policy by blaming the riots on exiled separatists, but experts say China’s growing political and economic might has in fact helped stem a tide of support for independence.

Many Uighur intellectuals are now convinced that a future as a genuinely autonomous part of China could be better than independence.

“If Beijing gave them proper autonomy, stopped Han migration, and gave the people the language and religious rights that are guaranteed anyway in the Chinese constitution, they might well find that Uighurs would quite happily remain part of China,” said Joanne Smith Finley at Britain’s Newcastle University.

But for Beijing, genuine autonomy is not really an option because of the precedent it could set for other parts of the country to break away from central control.

FOREIGN POLICY RISK

Besides stirring up questions about domestic management of minority areas, the riots have put Xinjiang on the world stage, but it is unlikely to turn into another foreign policy headache.

Until now, the oil-rich region has been less of a worry for China’s diplomats than Tibet, because the Uighurs and their plight have a low profile both in the West and Muslim nations.

“The Uighurs are far away and they’re cut off from the rest of the Muslims — for instance their sheikhs do not visit other countries, unlike Indonesian ones,” said Jihad al-Khazen, a columnist at the pan-Arab al-Hayat newspaper.

Their overseas advocates are also mostly exiled Uighurs, while the Tibetan exile community by contrast has spent years building up powerful popular support for their cause in Europe and the United States, including among celebrities.

Apparent gaffes by exiled Uighur leaders by claiming images of protests in other parts of China were actually from Xinjiang have not helped and have been gleefully seized on by the government as further evidence of their “lies”.

Chinese nationalist sentiment about the Tibetan riots last year was inflamed by the perception that foreigners were trying to meddle in the country’s affairs.

But Uighur efforts to drum up foreign support have been complicated by the fact that after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, China successfully campaigned to have some Uighur separatist groups added to the U.S. list of terrorist groups.

“They have been suspected or accused of harbouring terrorism since 9-11. Prior to 9-11 there was a lot of support for Uighurs in the West and in Europe, but since that time there seems to be less,” said Pomona College’s Gladney.

China’s global clout, and its general refusal to comment strongly on internal affairs of other countries, may also mute leaders of Muslim majority nations who want Chinese investment.

But though individual nations have remained largely silent, or echoed China’s position of “non-interference”, the Saudi-based Organisation of the Islamic Conference, a league of 57 Muslim nations, condemned excessive use of force against Uighur civilians and urged China to investigate.

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Deadly Typhoon Taiwan Hotel Collapse

TAIWAN-WEATHER-TYPHOON

Deadly Typhoon Taiwan Hotel Collapse

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TAIPEI, Taiwan A mudslide touched off by a deadly typhoon buried a remote mountain village, leaving at least 400 people unaccounted for Monday, and military rescue helicopters unable to land because of the slippery ground dropped food to desperate survivors.

Typhoon Morakot slammed Taiwan over the weekend with as much as 80 inches (two meters) of rain, inflicting the worst flooding the island has seen in at least a half-century. The storm submerged large swaths of farmland in chocolate-brown muck and swamped city streets before crossing the 112-mile-wide Taiwan Strait and hitting China, where it forced the evacuation of nearly 1 million people.

A disaster appeared to be unfolding around the isolated southern village of Shiao Lin, which was hit by a mudslide Sunday at about 6 a.m. local time — while many people were still asleep — and was cut off by land from the outside world.

Speaking to The Associated Press, a Taiwanese police official who identified himself only by his surname, Wang, said 400 people were unaccounted for in the village. Wang said 100 people had been rescued or otherwise avoided the brunt of the disaster.

One of the rescued villagers, an unidentified middle-aged man, told police that his family of 10 had been wiped out.

“They’re gone,” he said, according to a local photographer who overheard the exchange. “All gone.”
Another rescued villager, Lin Chien-chung, told the United Evening News that he believes as many as 600 people were buried in the mudslide.

“The mudslide covered a large part of the village including a primary school and many homes,” Lin was quoted as saying. “A part of the mountain above us just fell on the village.”

Lin said he and several neighbors moved to higher ground several hours before the mudslide hit because torrential rains had flooded their homes. Taiwan’s population register lists Shiao Lin as having 1,300 inhabitants, though many are believed to live elsewhere.

Under leaden gray skies, military helicopters hovered over the community, dropping food and looking for survivors. They were unable to land because of the slippery terrain. Shiao Lin was cut off after floodwaters destroyed a bridge about 8 miles (12 kilometers) away. A back road wending its way northward toward the mountain community of Alishan was also believed to be cut off, and with rain still falling in the area, the prospects for an early resumption of overland travel were poor.

Elsewhere in Taiwan, an additional 54 people were listed as missing. Authorities put the confirmed death toll in Taiwan at 14, but that seemed certain to rise. The typhoon’s path took it almost directly over the capital of Taipei, but its most destructive effects were in the heavily agricultural south and along the island’s densely foliated mountain spine. Shiao Lin is on Taiwan’s southwestern coast.

In rural Pingtung county, the rains turned rich swaths of farmland so sodden that it was difficult to distinguish them from the open sea. In the Pingtung community of Sandimen, troops maneuvered armored personnel carriers through flooded streets, plucking whole families from water-logged buildings and ferrying them to safety.

In Taitung, in the southeastern lowlands, a raging flood toppled a five-story hotel.
Anxious relatives in Taitung county begged President Ma Ying-jeou to help their loved ones.
“You must try to save my father,” cried one. “Please, I beg you to save my father.”

After pummeling Taiwan, Morakot slammed into China’s Fujian province, directly across the strait, with heavy rain and winds of 74 miles (119 kilometers) per hour, according the China Meteorological Administration. At least one child died after a house collapsed in Zhejiang province.

Hundreds of villages and towns were flooded and more than 2,000 houses had collapsed, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Four people died in Zhejiang, and two other deaths were reported in Fujian and Jiangxi province, Xinhua said.
Before plowing into Taiwan, the storm hit the Philippines, where it killed 22.
In Japan, meanwhile, Typhoon Etau slammed into the western coast Monday. Twelve people were killed in raging floodwaters and landslides, and 10 others were missing, police said.

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Deadly floods ravage Brazil’s Minas Gerais

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A total of 66 towns cities in Minas Gerais state have declared a state of emergency.In the town of Ouro Preto two taxi drivers died when a bus station was destroyed by a landslide.
Flood waters are also threatening hillside communities in Rio de Janeiro state that were devastated a year ago.

Flooding is common in southeastern Brazil during the rainy season. Nationwide, more than 2m people have been affected by this year’s rains, Brazil’s civil defence force says.

About 10,300 people have been evacuated, and 3,000 homes have been destroyed.

Many roads have been blocked, making it difficult to get help and supplies to affected areas.

Early warning

Last year floods killed more than 800 people, in what officials said was the worst natural disaster ever to befall Brazil.
Most of the deaths were in towns in the mountains north of Rio de Janeiro such as Nova Friburgo, which are again suffering from intense rains.

Since then, the Brazil government has set up an early warning system to monitor weather rainfall and ensure people evacuate before floods strike.

There has also been heavy investment in flood protection.

Minas Gerais state governor Antonio Anastasia said disaster prevention measures had proved effective.

“Given the quantity of rain, we can observe that the system of alerts and evacuation are working well,” he said.

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