Monday, July 28, 2008

Chinese Muslims link attacks to Olympics

By Mure Dickie in Beijing

Published: July 28 2008 03:00 | Last updated: July 28 2008 03:00

A group opposed to Chinese rule in the mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang has claimed responsibility for bombings around the country, saying they were part of a campaign against next month's Beijing -Olympics.

Chinese officials have repeatedly raised the possibility of a terrorist attack and used it to justify a security crackdown.

But the claims - brought to media attention by IntelCenter, the US terrorism monitoring company - are certain to heighten security concerns around the Olympics, which open on August 8.

Chinese police dismissed the weekend claims, made in a video issued by members of the Uighur Muslim ethnic minority who called themselves the "Turkestan Islamic party".

The official Xinhua news agency quoted police as saying there was no evidence linking fatal bus bombings in the south-western city of Kunming and in Shanghai in May with terrorist activity or the Olympics.

Xinhua said other attacks referred to in the video had not occurred.

Senior Chinese security officials have said Xinjiang separatists are one of the most pressing threats to the games.

China has claimed its police have killed five members of a Uighur group waging "holy war".

"The Turkestan Islamic party volunteers will conduct violent military actions against individuals, departments, venues and activities that are related to the Olympics in China," a man identified as "Commander Seyfullah" says in the video, according to IntelCenter.

Weighing the degree of danger posed by separatist groups from Xinjiang, where Chinese rule is unpopular among the dominant Uighurs, is highly difficult.

Apart from the report on Xinhua's English language service dismissing it, Chinese state media generally ignored the Turkestan Islamic party's claims.

Exile Uighur groups have accused Beijing of exaggerating the danger from Xinjiang to justify a crackdown.

China's moves to silence dissidents and step up monitoring of activists ahead of the Olympics have drawn criticism from human rights groups.

Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, said: "Security threats have to be dealt with and that is fully understood by everybody, but security should not become in any way a cover to try to deal with dissent."

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