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Strife shows ethnic tension China hopes to ignore

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Strife shows ethnic tension China hopes to ignore

URUMQI, China (AP) — Ethnic strife in China is hardly unique to the western region of Xinjiang, where 156 were killed in recent unrest.

Communal and ethnic suspicions simmer across much of China, even though 91 percent of the population are from one group, the Han Chinese.

The situation is worst in the west, the vast borderlands where Chinese imperial dynasties spilled into traditional homelands of Buddhist Tibetans, Muslim Uighurs, nomadic Mongols and Hui, a Muslim group. But other areas are not immune: in February, hundreds of Hui and Han villagers clashed in Henan province in central China, a day’s drive from Beijing.

In the latest clash, anger at the authorities’ handling of a brawl between Uighur and Han factory workers in south China triggered a protest Sunday 1,800 miles (3,000 kilometers) away in Xinjiang, the Uighur homeland. Uighurs beat Han and torched their shops and cars. After security forces quelled the riots, vigilantes on both sides attacked people in the regional capital Urumqi.

“There is huge distrust between ethnic groups,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Asia researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch. Incidents such as the factory clash show that “people have negative stereotypes about each other, there’s racism in a sense, and every community closes ranks against the ‘waidiren’ — the people from outside.”

Government policies don’t help. Beijing has promoted economic development in Xinjiang and Tibet, but it has also imposed Chinese language and culture and ignored minority grievances, blaming overseas exiles for inciting any unrest.

Many minority communities remain poor, which only hardens Han stereotypes that other groups are lazy and ungrateful, despite the government’s economic assistance.

Even in the absence of such policies, old tensions bubble up.

February’s melee in Henan province started when Han and Hui boys quarreled over fireworks. A 2004 traffic accident in another Henan village degenerated into an ethnic fight that left seven dead officially and, according to some foreign news reports, as many as 150.

Further east in Shandong province, police shot and killed at least five Hui in a protest march in 2000 after a Han butcher advertised sales of “Muslim pork” — outraging Muslims whose dietary laws forbid the eating of pork.

Even among the Han, old feuds between clans and villages have picked up in recent years. Police deployed in March to separate two villages on the tropical island of Hainan after a fight between residents left one dead. The cause, state media said, was an 80-year-old land dispute.

Uighurs and Tibetans complain of being discriminated against when trying to get jobs and bank loans, unlike, they say, Han migrants. In Xinjiang, the Han population has soared, from 6 percent in 1949 to 40 percent in 2000.

Policies that phase out instruction in minority languages in favor of Chinese in upper grades leaves Tibetans and Uighurs feeling further disadvantaged, both in school and later in the job market. Beijing maintains the language policy is to bring these groups into the thriving mainstream.

The government also restricts religion, appointing imams and senior clerics, limiting the numbers of monks, tearing down unregistered madrassas and prohibiting minors and university students from taking part in religious services.

The government’s “attitude is that Tibetans simply have to become Chinese and Uighurs simply have to become Chinese,” said Andrew Fischer, an expert in development policies of western China at the Institute of Social Studies at the Hague in the Netherlands.

Beijing defends its approach, pointing to the economic progress and infrastructure Chinese rule has brought minority areas.

“The mainstream position for the last 50 years is that the minorities have benefited from Chinese peaceful liberation and being brought into the motherland and there’s no problem at all,” said Fischer.

The distrust of some minorities is thinly veiled. During last year’s Beijing Olympics, police told hotels near Olympic venues not to rent rooms to Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians.

The Xinjiang riots have stirred anger among many Han, who have seen images of bleeding Han civilians on state-controlled media.

Many comments on online forums have called for a harsher crackdown. Some even say the rioters should all be shot — a comment echoed this week by Urumqi’s Communist Party secretary, Li Zhi, who said that rioters involved in killings and violent crimes would be executed.

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DNA shows body of slain militant not Noordin Muhammad Top

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DNA shows body of slain militant not Noordin Muhammad Top

JAKARTA, Indonesia – A suspected militant slain during a 16-hour siege with counterterrorism forces last week was not Indonesia‘s most-wanted militant Noordin Muhammad Top, police said Wednesday.

Tests comparing the body’s DNA with members of Noordin’s family came back negative, said Eddy Saparwoko, head of the national police victim identification unit.

Noordin, a Malaysian, has been blamed for a series of deadly al-Qaida-funded attacks in Indonesia since 2003 and is the prime suspect in twin suicide hotel bombings in Jakarta on July 17 that killed seven people.

Last month’s attacks ended a four-year lull in terrorism in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. Bombings have killed more than 250 people in Indonesia since 2002, most of them on the resort island of Bali, where a 2002 attack killed 202 people.

“The DNA test didn’t match with Noordin’s family,” Saparwoko told a nationally televised press conference Wednesday.

Local media had reported that Noordin, a self-proclaimed al-Qaida commander who has eluded capture in Indonesian and Malaysia since 2001, was slain in a gunbattle with security forces.

But Saparwoko said the man who died in the shootout at a farmhouse in central Java on Saturday was a florist, identified only as Ibrohim. He made floral arrangements at the J.W. Marriott Hotel and Ritz-Carlton, where suicide bombers attacked last month during breakfast, killing themselves and wounding more than 50 others.

Chief national police spokesman Nanan Sukarna identified Ibrohim as “a planner and arranger of the bombings” and said that five other suspects in the blasts remain at large, including Noordin.

Ibrohim, who worked in the hotels at least two years prior to the July bombings, began scouting the targets three months in advance and smuggled explosives in through a basement cargo dock a day before the strikes, Nanan said, showing newly-released security camera footage.

The grainy images show a lone man driving a small pickup truck into the J.W. Marriott Hotel and unloading what police said were three containers of explosives, apparently after skirting all security checks.

The video also showed Ibrohim leading the suicide bombers, one of them an 18-year-old high school graduate, through the hotels on July 8, apparently in a rehearsal for the attacks plotted from two rented safe houses on the outskirts of the capital, Jakarta.

“We know him. He worked as a third-party florist,” said Allan Orlob, head of security for the U.S.-owned J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton 5-star hotels.

Ibrohim resigned the morning of the bombings, Orlob told The Associated Press on Wednesday, and left only a letter to his employer in which he asked that part of his last pay check be used to repay several people who loaned him money.

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Iran nuclear crisis: Sanctions ‘beginning to bite’

Iran nuclear crisis: Sanctions ‘beginning to bite’

The US has said threats by Iran to restrict Gulf shipping in the event of further sanctions shows international pressure is having an effect.

The State Department said sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear programme were starting to bite and that Iran was trying to create a distraction.

Iran has conducted 10 days of exercises near the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz, test-firing several missiles.

Its currency is at a record low, but it has denied sanctions are to blame.

The UN Security Council has already passed four rounds of sanctions against Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment.

Highly enriched uranium can be processed into nuclear weapons, but Iran denies Western charges that it is trying to develop them.

Tehran says its programme is peaceful – it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity to meet growing domestic demand.The US has also sanctioned dozens of Iranian government agencies, officials and businesses over the nuclear programme.

The government in Tehran has dismissed the latest measures announced in the wake of a critical IAEA report in November.

US President Barack Obama signed into law the US bill targeting Iran’s central bank on Saturday. It enters into force in six months’ time.

Since then, however, the Iranian national currency, the rial, has lost about 12% of its value – trading at about 17,200-18,000 rials to $1.

Earlier on Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called for “stricter sanctions” and urged EU countries to follow the US in freezing Iranian central bank assets and imposing an embargo on oil exports.
‘Mock’ exercises

Speaking to journalists, the State Department’s Victoria Nuland said Tehran was feeling increasingly isolated because of the sanctions.

“Frankly we see these threats from Tehran as just increasing evidence that the international pressure is beginning to bite there and that they are feeling increasingly isolated and they are trying to divert the attention of their own public from the difficulties inside Iran, including the economic difficulties as a result of the sanctions,” she said.

Meanwhile Pentagon spokesman George Little responded to Iranian warnings to keep an aircraft carrier out of the Gulf, saying the Navy was operating within international law and had no plans to pull warships out of the region.Iran has been holding a series of naval exercises in the Gulf, and on Monday

said it had successfully test-fired a surface-to-sea Qader cruise missile, a shorter range Nasr and later, a surface-to-surface Nour missile.

A medium-range surface-to-air missile was successfully launched on Sunday, Iranian media reported.

Iran has conducted 10 days of exercises near the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s traded oil passes.

Tehran said on Monday that “mock” exercises on shutting the strait had been carried out, although there was no intention of closing it.

The BBC’s Iran correspondent James Reynolds says Iran is using the exercises to try to show that it owns the Gulf and has the military capability to defend against any threat to its dominance.

But, says our correspondent, few believe Iran would carry out its threat to shut the Strait of Hormuz as to do so would be considered too economically, politically and possibly militarily damaging for Tehran.

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