Page last updated at 00:23 GMT, Thursday, 9 October 2008 01:23 UK

Guantanamo Uighur release blocked

Inmate behind fence at Guantanamo Bay
The men were taken to Guantanamo after being detained in 2001

An US federal appeal court has blocked a judge's order that 17 Chinese detainees at the Guantanamo Bay camp should immediately be released.

A district court had said it was wrong for the Bush administration to continue holding the Chinese Muslim Uighurs, as it had no evidence against them.

The White House then appealed, saying the original ruling - the first of its kind - could set a dangerous precedent.

Captured in Afghanistan in 2001, the group has been held without charge.

Under the original ruling, they were to be brought to court on Friday, and then freed to stay with members of the Uighur community in the Washington area.

The appeal court ruling puts a temporary halt to the release to allow lawyers for both sides to present further arguments over the coming week.

'Sworn enemies'

The Uighurs had been cleared for release in 2004 but the US says they may face persecution if returned to China.

The White House said if they were released it could set a precedent that would allow "sworn enemies" to seek US entry.

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Ethnically Turkic Muslims, mainly in Xinjiang
Made bid for independent state in 1940s
Sporadic violence in Xinjiang since 1991
Uighurs worried about Chinese immigration and erosion of traditional culture

The government says the 17 also pose a security risk if released into the US.

But in the original ruling, District Judge Ricardo Urbina said there was no evidence that they were "enemy combatants" or a security risk.

Lawyers for the Bush administration have argued that federal judges do not have authority to order the release into the US of Guantanamo detainees.

Beijing demand

Some detainees at the military prison fear torture or persecution if they return to their home countries, according to the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.

The Bush administration has maintained that if they cannot be returned home and no other country will take them, they should stay at Guantanamo.

In 2006, five Chinese Muslim men released from Guantanamo Bay were flown to Albania for resettlement.

The 17 Uighurs involved in the current case had been living in a camp in Afghanistan during the US-led military campaign that began in October 2001.

They fled into the mountains and were held by Pakistani authorities who handed them over to the US.

Beijing has demanded that all Uighurs held at Guantanamo be repatriated to China.

Many Muslim Uighurs from Xinjiang in western China want greater autonomy for the region and some want independence.

Beijing has waged a campaign against what it calls their violent separatist activities.

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