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As China celebrates, rights groups urge focus on abuses

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Beijing (AFP)

As Communist China celebrated 70 years since its founding Tuesday, human rights groups called for the international community to focus instead on the country's human rights record, particularly its treatment of ethnic minorities.

A huge military parade marched through the streets of Beijing to mark the October 1 anniversary, after a speech from President Xi Jinping in which he promised that "no force" could stop China forging ahead.

But a number of rights groups have taken the opportunity of the key date to draw attention to human rights abuses by the authoritarian state.

The US-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) said in a statement that the day was "not an occasion to celebrate" but an opportunity to "voice opposition to the Chinese government's denial of fundamental human rights."

Rights groups say the mostly-Muslim minority Uighurs have suffered a severe crackdown that has sent more than one million of them in re-education camps in the northwest region of Xinjiang.

China had until recently denied the camps existed but now claims they are "vocational training schools" necessary to control terrorism.

"Chinese officials like to make statements about unity. Their version of 'unity' is built through violently silencing opposition," said UHRP director Omer Kanat.

Separately, the advocacy group Free Tibet published a report which said the Chinese government had levelled almost half of Yarchen Gar -- one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist sites in the world -- and forced the relocation of thousands of nuns and monks based there.

- 'Patriotic re-education' -

The group said it had verified that at least 70 nuns were detained for two to three months and forced to undergo patriotic re-education -- a process it says typically involves detainees being compelled to praise the People's Republic of China and denounce Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The study released Monday said satellite images acquired by Free Tibet verify the large-scale demolitions and that the local government plans to turn the area in the northwest of Sichuan province into a tourist destination.

Free Tibet says Chinese authorities have increased levels of surveillance inside Yarchen Gar, with around 600 military personnel now deployed there to monitor the inhabitants.

The government did not immediately reply to a request for comment from AFP.

Wei Jingsheng, a US-based human rights activist and member of the Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition, accused Beijing of "the suppression of knowledge and culture of several generations of the Chinese" in a speech Monday at a seminar in the US Congress.

The democracy group also held a protest outside the Chinese embassy in Washington.

But the major headache for Xi on the PRC's anniversary is pro-democracy activists in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, who were holding a day of demonstrations against what they see as creeping control from Beijing.

Democracy activists have dubbed it a "Day of Grief".

Rights group Amnesty International posted a video on Twitter Tuesday criticising the police for having "repeatedly abused protesters" and said that ahead of fresh Hong Kong protests: "We're watching them".

In Hong Kong, protesters threw eggs at a portrait of Xi and tore down placards celebrating the 70th anniversary.

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