Page last updated at 09:21 GMT, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 10:21 UK

Uighur 'plight similar to Tibet'

Rebiya Kadeer speaking at the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra - 11 August 2009
Rebiya Kadeer spent six years in prison in China

An exiled leader of China's Uighur ethnic minority, Rebiya Kadeer, has given a speech in Australia despite pressure from Chinese diplomats not to.

Speaking at Australia's National Press Club in Canberra, she compared the plight of her people to the Tibetans.

China says that Mrs Kadeer was behind ethnic unrest in July in Xinjiang region, home to the Uighur minority, in which at least 197 people died.

She denies being involved in the worst ethnic unrest in China for decades.

"The situation of Uighur people is very similar to the situation of the Tibetans," she said.

"We suffer the same suffering, under the same government, and it has been a long while that the Uighur people have not been able to raise our voice in the world as much as our Tibetan brothers did."

Controversial visit

It is a sensitive time in Australian-China relations, says the BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney, after China's arrest of an Australian Rio Tinto executive on suspicion of corporate espionage.

Diplomats from the Chinese embassy in Canberra tried to exert pressure on the National Press Club to cancel Tuesday's speech from Ms Kadeer, which, like most of the addresses at the club, was broadcast live on national television.

"You must withdraw the invitation," an official reportedly told the club.

A Uighur girl walks by Chinese security forces in Urumqi, July 16
Hundreds of people are still detained in Xinjiang

The official then warned that it would be "regrettable" if relations between China and Australia were harmed by her appearance.

If the speech did go ahead, then it should not be broadcast on national television, the official was reported as saying.

Her visit to Australia has been dogged by controversy. Chinese officials earlier demanded the withdrawal of a documentary about her life which was screened at the Melbourne Film Festival.

When organisers refused, the festival's website came under cyber-attack from hackers in China who replaced film information with the Chinese flag and anti-Kadeer slogans.

Rebiya Kadeer said of the latest controversy that China could not impose its authoritarian will on the whole world.

She said that Australia was a democratic country and not a province of China.

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