TOKYO -- A high-profile Uighur activist accused China of repressing her ethnic group, as her exiles' group met on May 14 in Tokyo for its biggest gathering in three years and the Chinese government slammed Japan for allowing the meeting.
World Uyghur Congress head Rebiya Kadeer said her group would continue its "peaceful struggle" for democracy and self-determination on behalf of Muslim Uighurs of far western China, and demanded that China respect the rights of ethnic minorities.
"We protest against the unbelievable suppression of human rights by China on the Uighur people," Kadeer told the gathering of about 120 people in the Japanese capital. "Countries around the world that embrace freedom and democracy should cooperate and sternly pressure China."
Japan allowed the meeting over the objections of China, which stressed its displeasure on May 14 over what it called Tokyo's interference in domestic Chinese affairs.
"China is strongly discontented with Japan for ignoring China's firm objections and obstinately allowing the World Uyghur Congress to host relevant meetings in Japan," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regularly scheduled news conference in Beijing.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said he had no comment on the privately sponsored meeting.
The gathering was the first of the congress since deadly clashes between ethnic Uighurs and members of the dominant Han Chinese group in China's western region of Xinjiang in 2009 sparked international attention on the region. It has seen sporadic clashes since then.
Uighur activists blame the violence on economic marginalization and restrictions on Uighur culture and the Muslim religion that are breeding anger, especially among the younger generation.
The Chinese government has failed to win over Uighurs through policies to boost economic growth and incomes as it increases police presence and controls religious practices to deter displays of separatism.
Beijing has accused Kadeer of inciting the riots; she denies it. Kadeer was arrested in China in 1999 and sentenced to eight years in prison for mailing newspaper reports of anti-Chinese unrest to her husband overseas and for trying to give a list of political prisoners to U.S. congressional staff. She was released in 2005 and has since been living in the U.S.
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