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Another Tibet
Xinjiang’s indigenous Muslims fight for cultural survival

Muslim Uighur boy: 'like a pile of dry firewood' ready to catch fire.

On a wall near a busy crossroads in Urumqi City looms a large red poster. ‘The Han nationality and ethnic minorities share a common fate and their hearts are linked to one another,’ it proclaims. The poster is part of a campaign to convince the city’s Chinese migrants and indigenous Muslim Uighurs that harmony reigns in Xinjiang province in remote inland north-western China. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There has been widespread rioting in Yining City recently – the most serious disturbance in the city since 1949. Up to 1,000 Uighurs smashed cars, burned shops and beat Han Chinese, calling for independence from the People’s Republic. At least ten people died in the rioting.

The root cause of the escalating unrest lies in the increasing numbers of Han Chinese migrating into the region. The changing composition of the population has led to cultural clashes between the Han Chinese, who currently make up 38 per cent of the region’s population, and the Uighur majority. One academic remarked sadly: ‘We are as birds trapped in a cage.’

Meanwhile, the raw materials abundant in Xinjiang are being stripped out at an alarming rate. Oil, coal and iron ore are being spirited away to inner China. Uighur students of economics at Xinjiang University claim that just one day’s cargo would be sufficient to supply Xinjiang locals for three years.

The numbers of Han migrants look set to increase. After disturbances in Kuqar during the Islamic festival of Korban last year, the government issued an urgent circular known as Document 7. It states that the construction of the new Urumqi-Kashgar railway, linking North and South Xinjiang, must be completed within the next three years. The railway could mean the beginning of the end for the relatively untouched South. Its completion will bring new migrations of Chinese into the region.

The Uighurs feel their impotence keenly. ‘We used to say that one Han brought ten more with him. Now we say that one Han brings another hundred.’

But the Yining riots may be a sign that local Uighurs are ready to take their fate back into their own hands. One man from Urumqi says: ‘Uighurs are like a pile of dry firewood. All it needs is for someone to set the match to it.’

Nicola Beckley

Good for guns.

Goods for guns
Over the last three years the Goods for Guns group based in New York has organized a number of efforts in the US and Dominican Republic to persuade people to exchange firearms for store coupons to buy consumer goods. But the group was unprepared for what happened when they, along with local sponsors, tried the same approach recently in El Salvador. Salvadoreans not only traded handguns and rifles, but also brought rocket launchers, grenades, grenade launchers, detonators, TNT and C-4 explosives to the four churches where arms were being collected. During two weekends 1,262 weapons and 14,580 units of ammunition were handed in.

Source: Share International, Vol 15, No 10



Strip protest
A group of women political activists have sparked a storm in Zambia by staging a bare-breasted protest procession. Some wore loincloths while others barely covered the lower parts of their bodies. The topless protest was aimed at publicizing opposition allegations of poll-rigging in the November presidential and legislative elections.

The women’s action mirrors earlier strip protests in Zambia. A series of such demonstrations prior to independence from the British in 1964 were intended to show popular disgust with colonial rule.

Source: Gemini News Service

Borneo to power Malaysia
The Malaysian Government is going ahead with its plans to construct the Bakun hydro-electric dam on the island of Borneo. A 650-kilometre cable under the South China sea will carry electricity from Borneo to peninsular Malaysia.

The $6 billion project on the Rejang river will flood 70,000 hectares – an area the size of Singapore – in the timber-rich Sarawak state on Borneo island and displace 9,000 tribal people. Work on the dam and power station is due to begin in May.

Source: Down to Earth, Vol. 4, No 22



Closed door
Anti-gay legislation in Romania

Closed door

Alexandru wears eye shadow. That is enough to get assaulted on the streets of Bucharest. ‘You have to be careful everywhere you go, all the time,’ says Alexandru, a 24-year-old waiter. ‘It’s dangerous to be gay in Romania.’ Romanian homosexuals who hoped life would be easier and safer after the fall of the communist regime are now disappointed. Despite the Council of Europe’s insistence on the removal of a ban on same-sex relations, it is still dangerous to be openly gay.

Homophobic thugs regularly launch late-night raids on the handful of informal gay meeting spots in the capital, terrorizing anyone who happens to be there. Gay men such as Alexandru expect no protection from the police.

Romanian laws on homosexuality have long been the toughest in Europe, and new amendments to the controversial penal code have made them even tougher.

‘Most gay people here live in the closet,’ says Bogdan, a gay university student. ‘These conditions make life for gay people very difficult, especially in small cities or the countryside.’

Even after the 1989 revolution, Romania’s notorious Paragraph 200 – which outlawed same-sex relations – remained in place. Gay people were spied upon, harassed and arrested. Many were victims of police brutality and torture.

But in 1994 the Council of Europe made Romania’s membership of its organizations conditional on repealing the ban. Late last year, after an emotional debate, the Romanian Parliament grudgingly revised Paragraph 200. It scrapped the blanket ban on homosexual relations, but expanded other sections of the law.

‘The amended version somehow meets the Council of Europe’s conditions,’ says Ion Iacos of the Bucharest-based Romanian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights. ‘But, in fact, it’s so vague it’s worse than the old one. I’m afraid we can expect even more violations than before.’

Undefined phrases such as ‘public scandal’ or ‘seducing’ leaves the matter open to interpretation by Romania’s intolerant police force and prosecutors. Amnesty International says the revised article is effectively no different from the previous prosecution of homosexuality as an illegal act.

‘The new restrictions ensure there will be no gay organizations, no associations, no bars, no demonstrations, no theatre performances, no nothing,’ says Iacos.

Neither can Romania’s gays hope for much from the new democratic-led government that recently unseated the ruling ex-communist party after seven years in office. The new President, Emil Constatinescu (pictured above), takes an even stronger anti-homosexual stand than the ex-communists did.

Nevertheless, part of Bucharest’s small gay community is defying the authorities. A year ago it formed a group, Accept, to organize for gay rights and provide a forum for Romania’s gays.

‘The problem is not just the laws,’ says Bogdan, a co-founder of Accept. ‘It’s the way the whole society thinks about homosexuality. And that won’t change in the near future because there’s no-one who wants it to change.’

Paul Hockenos / Gemini

Chateau Plutonium
French vineyard owners are warning that Sunday lunches washed down with fine Rhone Valley wines may be a thing of the past if plans proceed for a nuclear-waste storage facility in the clay soil that produces one of France’s most delicious exports. In a departure from decades of unquestioning enthusiasm for France’s nuclear industry, growers of exquisite wines such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Crozes-Hermitage are opposing a plan for one of two underground storage sites to be built 1,500 feet beneath their precious vines.

Source: The Observer, 23 February 1997

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Tusk tussle
Row erupts as elephants go on the pill

Contraception might reduce numbers, but why eliminate a source of income for cash-strapped Africans?

An experiment in South Africa to give birth-control shots to elephants has heightened disputes over how best to protect the species. Supporters of the pioneering project hope it can be developed into an effective and humane way of controlling elephant populations. But sceptics say widespread use of contraceptives could rob rural communities of a valuable economic and nutritional resource. Farmers are less likely to help conserve wildlife, runs the argument, if such benefits are denied them.

The debate is likely to intensify over the next few months as southern African countries lobby for a relaxation of a worldwide ban on the sale of elephant products. The issue will discussed at a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Harare in June.

Twenty-one adult female elephants in South Africa’s extensive Kruger National Park game reserve recently received the contraceptive vaccine PZP at the start of an experiment to test for effectiveness and side-effects. The programme is being administered by the Humane Society in the United States (HSUS).

The National Parks Board (NPB) says the reserve can sustain no more than its current 7,500 to 8,000 elephants. Until now these numbers have been maintained by culling and relocating some animals to small private reserves. Officials have now agreed to the HSUS project, which will last for five years because of the elephants’ long gestation period – 22 months.

The argument over how best to conserve such species has been taking place – at least to some degree – across a North-South divide. Groups like HSUS believe that animals should be protected and left in peace. But they are opposed by groups such as the Zimbabwe-based Africa Resources Trust (ART), a non-governmental organization which believes that wildlife can be used as part of sustainable rural development.

ART activists say elephants can provide income through the sale of products and hunting licences, and much-needed protein for communities bordering national parks. The same economic activities, they say, can also fund the upkeep of such parks.

‘Africa is a protein-poor continent and has very few competitive advantages when it comes to international trade,’ says ART project manager Jon Hutton. ‘We’re trying to grow cattle and crops. But elephants are something all the world wants. They want to see them and they want their products. And we’ve got them. But what do we do? Reduce productivity through contraception. It makes no sense.’

‘In Kruger,’ says Hutton, ‘we have what is called “Fortress Conservation” – a wall goes up, you keep people out, and there is no consumptive use. Personally, I would like to see greater integration of Kruger’s activities with those of the two million people who live in its vicinity.’

Critics of the birth-control project think it unlikely that contraception will ever prove viable for large herds. Hutton acknowledges that there are some populations – such as Kenya’s Amboseli Park where the life-history of each animal is known – for which contraception might be practical.

‘But in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, with some 27,000 elephants, it would never work. How would you keep track of the vaccinated elephants or make sure the boosters were administered at the right time? The logistics and cost of such an operation boggle the mind.’

Johnson Siamachira / Gemini

Raising Hell
The more rebellious elements of Egypt’s younger generation are cutting their hair and keeping their heads down after 80 rock fans were arrested on charges of Satanism and blasphemy. Police say that alleged Satanists organized private parties in remote desert areas, where ‘they took drugs, engaged in group sex, got into homosexual acts and dug up corpses at cemeteries’. But those arrested, many of them from wealthy Cairo families, were stunned by the accusations. ‘I was shocked. The first thing they asked me was whether I was chasing cats and draining their blood,’ said a 21-year-old arts student who was questioned by ‘seven men in black commando uniforms’. So far, the following evidence has been presented: plastic skeletons dangling from key rings, skull belt buckles and heavy-metal posters and CDs. The defendants face up to five years in prison.

Source: Gemini News Service

More Cruella than Pongo
Your child’s toy 101 Dalmatian may have been made in a sweatshop in Thailand. Last September Noy (not her real name) was busy sewing eyes and noses on toy Pongo and Purdey dogs, ready for the release of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians at Christmas. She works from 8am to 9pm with two hour-long breaks in a stiflingly hot factory. She is paid the equivalent of five dollars a day, plus a dollar overtime. ‘I get very tired, but I need the overtime just to survive,’ she says.

For more information contact:
CAFOD’s ‘Fair deal for the poor’ campaign,
Romero Close, Stockwell Road, London, SW9 9TY, Britain,
Tel: +44 171 733 7900.


‘Real fear is such a disgusting feeling. Humiliating.
It degrades you in your own eyes.’

Ryszard Kapuscinski – the Polish author who has spent a lifetime reporting from the front line of conflicts,
particularly in Africa – reacting to the idea that mortal danger can produce an emotional 'high’.

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New Internationalist issue 290 magazine cover This article is from the May 1997 issue of New Internationalist.
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