China warns nationals of safety after Turkish protests turn violent

The Chinese consulate in Istanbul issued a travel warning to its citizens in the city yesterday, after a number of tourists were targeted during anti-Chinese protests over the weekend.

The consulate warned Chinese nationals visiting or residing in the city to be "aware of their safety", avoid going out alone, getting close to protests, filming them or taking photographs of the demonstrators.

On Saturday and Sunday, a series of protests took place in Istanbul as Muslims voiced solidarity with the Turkic Uighurs, a eight million-strong Muslim minority group, primarily based in Xinjiang province, an autonomous territory in northwest China, living under cultural and religious suppression by the Chinese government.

On Sunday, protesters outside the Chinese consulate were pictured burning the Chinese flag and holding banners. The protests followed a week of demonstrations throughout Istanbul against the Chinese government ban on Uighurs fasting during Ramadan.

On Saturday, Turkish protesters reportedly attacked Korean holidaymakers, mistaking them for Chinese tourists, as a demonstration made its way towards the city's Topkapi Palace. One Chinese restaurant in the city also had its windows smashed.

Although the Chinese interior ministry denies accusations of oppression, claiming that "we [the Chinese government] have no problem with the Muslims", local authorities have been accused of not allowing women to wear the veil and prohibiting Muslims from fasting between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, insisting that Muslim-owned shops stay open and threatening them with fines and closure.

Tensions in Xinjiang have turned violent. In 2009, ethnic rioting in Urumqi resulted in the death of over 200 people, most of them Han Chinese. In June 2012, six Uighurs also tried to hijack a plane traveling from Hotan to Urumqi but were unsuccessful and in April 2014, the authorities blamed a bomb and knife attack at Urumqi's south railway station on Uighurs. The attack killed three and injured 79 others.

The Turkish government is regularly accused by China of getting involved in the political issues in Xinjiang, which was established as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in 1955, after China overpowered the state of East Turkestan in 1949. The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Doruk Ergun, a Research Fellow at the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies in Istanbul says that the official stance of the Turkish government has always been to criticize the Chinese government over their treatment of the Uighurs.

"[President] Erdogan will be travelling to China by the end of the month, reportedly as part of a visit to G20 countries before the summit. There are suggestions he will discuss about the Uighurs issue during his trip," Ergun says.

In 2009, Erdogan criticized the Chinese crackdowns on Uighurs strongly, calling it a "genocide". His government also granted citizenship to many Uighurs that have left China and fled to Turkey.

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