Ethnic Uighur women sit on a street in Aksu in China far western Xinjiang region on July 31, 2008. Critics say authorities in Beijing exaggerate the terror threat to justify the repression of unhappy minorities like Xinjiang 8.3 million Uighurs, who have chafed under decades of Chinese rule. AFP PHOTO/Peter PARKS
Uighurs, from the far western region of Xinjiang, mostly follow Sunni Islam and their central Asian physical appearance clearly distinguishes them from China’s ethnic Han majority.
Beijing says it ensures religious freedom for all of its citizens and has preferential policies towards ethnic minorities. Rights groups and analysts accuse China’s government of cultural and religious repression against Uighurs — such as cracking down on hijabs for women and beards for men, as well as limits on fasting during Ramadan — fuelling the unrest.
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Chinese Muslims leave the Nuijie Mosque in Beijing after prayers to celebrate Eid al-Fitr festivities marking the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan on October 2, 2008. China ethnic Uighurs originating from the countries northwest Xinjiang province have long been viewed with suspicion by the Chinese but despite high security before the Beijing Olympics, a string of deadly attacks and bombings brought the worst violence in a decade to the region. AFP PHOTO / Peter PARKS