Xinjiang imposes strict controls on religious activities

BEIJING - China has introduced strict controls on religious activities in its Muslim-majority Xinjiang region, including compulsory political drills for clerics and a partial ban on fasting during holy days, state media said.

The authorities in the southern Xinjiang city of Kashgar, where Turkic-speaking ethnic Uighur Muslims form a large majority, have also staged a series of night-time searches of homes, the Kashgar Daily said.

The report, from an early January edition of the newspaper seen in Beijing this week, indicated that the authorities in Kashgar, the nearest Chinese city to the country's border with Afghanistan, were on high alert for separatist activities.

Since the Sept 11 attacks on the United States, there had been frequent reports of a sustained crackdown in Xinjiang, which had seen a small-scale and intermittently violent separatist campaign.

Kashgar's Communist Party secretary Yao Yongfeng was quoted by the newspaper as saying that local officials must be prepared to combat subversion under the guise of religious activity.

'We must be vigilant against hostile forces overseas who use religion to carry out infiltration,' he said.

Last year, local officials put 253 Islamic leaders through training sessions on political ideology, the daily said.

In certain areas, clerics had been ordered to attend two hours of political studies every Friday afternoon. Local government officials had also been told to restrict students from fasting during Muslim holy days, the report said.

It said that last year and at the beginning of this year, Kashgar police arrested 530 members of 21 'reactionary groups'.

Meanwhile, Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, in talks with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji on Wednesday, was said to have promised to hand over Chinese Muslim militants caught in Afghanistan. --AFP, AP