BEIJING — The planned route of the Olympic torch through China's restive Xinjiang region is worsening Chinese repression there and should be cancelled, a leader of the area's ethnic Uighur population has said.
Rebiya Kadeer, head of the Uighur American Association, told AFP that security forces were rounding up many people ahead of the flame's circuit of the western region late next month.
"The Chinese authorities have been heavily cracking down on the Uighurs in order to bring the torch through East Turkestan," Kadeer said, using the Uighur term for the region.
"We have learned that many Uighurs are being detained and arrested by the Chinese authorities to prevent their peaceful protests in relation to the torch," she told AFP in an e-mailed answer to queries.
Leaders of Xinjiang's Uighurs, a Muslim central Asian people who have long chafed under Beijing's control, accuse China of harsh oppression and policies that they say are aimed at extinguishing their culture.
"I am opposed to the torch passage because it comes with severe repression of the Uighur people," she said.
Kadeer's comments follow allegations Saturday by another overseas Uighur leader that more than 10,000 people were believed to have been rounded up in Xinjiang over the past four to five months.
"Everywhere, homes, hotels are searched. People are arrested," Dolkun Isa, secretary general of the Munich-based World Uighur Congress, told AFP in Tokyo.
"Even people with no past records have been arrested simply because they look suspicious."
Kadeer, who spent six years in a Chinese jail from 1999-2005 and now lives in exile in the United States, also repeated her charge that China fabricated recent claims that it broke up Xinjiang-based terror cells targeting the Olympics.
"China is using the occasion to host the 2008 Olympics as an opportunity to further demonise the Uighur people's legitimate and peaceful struggle and justify its heavy-handed repression in East Turkestan," she said.
China plans to bring the torch to Xinjiang on June 25-27 as part of a relay through the mainland that began on Sunday in the lead up to the August Olympics.
The torch's international relay route has been marred by protests against China's human rights record and crackdown on Tibet.