Minority students stage Peking's first antinuclear demonstration

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In Peking's first antinuclear demonstration, students from China's far-western region of Xinjiang presented their demands to a senior Communist Party official here Sunday. The demands included a call to stop the testing of nuclear weapons at the Lop Nor test range in western China and a call for greater political freedom for ethnic minority groups in western China. The protest followed several larger demonstrations this month in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital, in which top provincial officials were confronted with similar demands.

In a statement released Monday night, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that about 200 Uighur minority students from Xinjiang had held a demonstration Sunday and had ``put a few questions [to the Communist Party] chiefly because they did not know much about the situation.''

``In the present international situation, it is necessary to conduct a small number of nuclear tests to safeguard China's security. This is endorsed and supported by the great masses of the Chinese people,'' the statement said. It also said that in China's nuclear-testing program, full attention had been paid to health and safety questions. Other concerns of the students were apparently dismissed.

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According to participants in Sunday's protest, about 400 young people from Peking's main university for ethnic minorities, the Institute of Cultural Minorities, as well as minority students from three other schools including Peking University, gathered in Tian An Men Square Sunday morning. The students were mainly Turkish-speaking Muslims from Xinjiang.

Top officials from the four universities were present in the square and tried to persuade the students not to demonstrate. But police did not interfere as the students marched, carrying banners proclaiming their demands. They then marched to the Communist Party headquarters and presented their demands in writing to a top official of the party's United Front Department, according to a reporter from Agence France Presse who met with some of the students Monday afternoon. No one was arrested, they said.

Other demands included a call for democratic elections that would allow minority peoples to become officials in the region and an end to the policy of sending criminals to Xinjiang.

The students also called for greater support for education among China's minorities and for more students from Xinjiang to be sent abroad. The protesters said that only 20 students from Xinjiang had gone abroad this year.

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