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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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Ambani brothers’ gas dispute ups India investment risks

in.reuters.com

Ambani brothers’ gas dispute ups India investment risks

MUMBAI – july 15 – The wrangle over an energy deal between billionaire Ambani brothers has highlighted the risks inherent in an economy dominated by big family businesses and spurred calls for the government to intervene.

The latest dispute between the feuding brothers could discourage investment in India’s energy sector as the country scrambles to shore up its energy security.

It also tests governance standards for a nation that ranks a lowly 180 when it comes to enforcing contracts on the World Bank’s index on ease of doing business. Only Benin ranks worse.

The near-three-year battle between India’s top conglomerate Reliance Industries, headed by Mukesh Ambani, 52, and Reliance Natural Resources, led by estranged brother Anil, 50, will be heard in Supreme Court on July 20.

The two sides are fighting over terms of a gas-supply agreement struck when the Reliance empire was split in 2005. The Bombay High Court ruled last month that Reliance Industries should supply gas to Reliance Natural at nearly half the price it had set in an interim order in January.

The gas in dispute comes from the vast Krishna Godavari (KG) basin, and some in India have said terms of access to such a crucial resource in an energy-starved country should not be left in private hands.

“If a private MOU (memorandum of understanding) can involve something that belongs in the public domain, it gives the sense that large corporations can bend rules and influence policy — that’s surely got to be the biggest political risk,” said Seema Desai, an analyst at risk consultancy Eurasia Group in London.

The government has largely been silent, which could make investors wary, said strategist Arun Kejriwal at KRIS Research.

“It sends a message that the law is different for different people. This is not trivial, it is a matter of national interest,” said Kejriwal.

The chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh, where the KG basin is located, has also called for New Delhi to step in.

“The dispute over sharing of gas is not an issue to be settled by their mother. It is for the Centre (central government) to decide who should get the gas at what price,” Y.S. Rajasekhar said on Sunday, according to the Times of India.

FAMILY BUSINESS

Big business families in India, as in many other countries, have long played an outsized role in the broader economy and have used political patronage to smooth their way. Some analysts say that too much is at stake now for the government to stay silent.

“The government’s call is important … the verdict could have an impact on the gas-allocation policy as it is likely to impact the flow of gas to priority sectors going ahead,” Angel Broking wrote in a recent client note.

Macquarie estimates the proposed oil and gas production from just 4 percent of the KG-D6 block and Cairn Energy’s Rajasthan block could add $20 billion to India’s GDP, cut its oil imports by 23 percent and add $59 billion in government profit-sharing and taxes.

Disputes like this “may dissuade future exploration and exploitation of India’s mammoth upstream potential,” it said.

This is not the first time that a fight between two of the wealthiest men in the world has grabbed newspaper headlines and sparked debate about the balance of power in corporate India. Mukesh was ranked 7th by Forbes in its list of global billionaires in March, with a net worth of $19.5 billion. Anil was at No. 34 on the list, with a net worth of $10.1 billion.

Reliance Industries last year cited a first right of refusal clause in the agreement to sink a bid by Anil Ambani’s Reliance Communications for a merger with South Africa’s MTN.

The details of the family settlement, which was brokered by the Ambanis’ mother, have not been made public, and at least a dozen issues still need resolution, analysts say, ranging from properties to shares in companies.

But some expect the rule of law to ultimately prevail.

“Family disputes among corporate houses in India, and the world over, are not new,” said Manoj Vohra, director of the Economist Intelligence Unit in India.

“The rule of law in India is better than in several developing economies. Opportunities are massive and fundamental in nature and unlikely to be clouded by this slugfest.”

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