Hong Kong protests 'inspiring China's Uighurs' in Xinjiang: Rebiya Kadeer

Pro-democracy protestors gather in the Mong Kok district of Kowloon in Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Pro-democracy protestors gather in the Mong Kok district of Kowloon in Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The exiled leader of China's Uighur minority believes the large-scale protests roiling Hong Kong are inspiring people in her home region of Xinjiang, in comments likely to rile Beijing.

Rebiya Kadeer told Foreign Policy that how the Hong Kong protests play out could have far-reaching implications for the Uighur people in far-western China.

The Hong Kong protests were "very inspiring" to Uighurs, Kadeer, who leads the World Uyghur Congress, was quoted as saying in an interview on the magazine's website.

"If Hong Kong wins, it will benefit Uighurs as well, and then the Uighurs can strengthen their own movement."

Days of peaceful demonstrations in Hong Kong have seen tens of thousands of people take to the streets as they call on Beijing to grant free elections to the semi-autonomous city.

Kadeer said she believed the international attention on Hong Kong meant a violent conclusion to the protests was unlikely.

"The people of Hong Kong - they struggle in a very peaceful way," she said.

"The Chinese government couldn't oppress them with brute force," added Kadeer, 67, who spent 11 years behind bars in China before being allowed to go into exile in the United States in 2005.

Xinjiang, a resource-rich region which abuts Central Asia, is home to about 10 million Uighurs, who mostly follow Sunni Islam.

The region has seen escalating violence which in the past year has spilled over into other parts of China.

China blames unrest in the region on organised terrorists influenced by religious extremists and groups abroad.