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Video Shows Smashing of Istanbul Thai Embassy After Repatriation of Uighur Refugees

Demonstrators in Turkey rallied in solidarity with 109 Uighur refugees who were repatriated from Thailand to China this week.
July 9, 2015, 6:35pm
Photo by Emrah Gurel/AP

Demonstrators were filmed smashing up Thailand's embassy in Istanbul on Thursday after the Thai government repatriated more than 100 ethnic Uighur refugees to China.

Nine people were arrested after more than 100 — mostly Uighur — protesters stormed the embassy overnight, throwing files into the courtyard, smashing windows and furniture, and bringing down the Thai flag. There were no reported injuries, authorities said.

The attack came after Turkish officials denounced Thailand's repatriation of 109 Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking minority Muslim population, which in China is concentrated primarily in the fractious western region of Xinjiang. Hundreds have died as ethnic violence has escalated in the last two years, with China repeatedly blaming "terrorism" and "religious extremism" for continued unrest in the region.

Both Turkey's 's Foreign Ministry and the United Nations refugee group said Thailand's decision violated international humanitarian law.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees's (UNHCR) assistant chief, Volker Türk, said in a statement that the office had been given assurances from the Thai government that the Uighurs "would continue to receive protection" and "the matter would be handled in accordance with international legal standards."

Related: Are Militants from China's Xinjiang Region Really Being Trained by the Islamic State?

Instead, the refugees were returned to China, where they claimed they were subject to increasing religious and cultural suppression as well as economic persecution.

Thai officials defended the decision Thursday, saying the Uighurs were returned under the agreement China would guarantee their safety.

"If we don't do it this way, then how would we do it?" Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said. "Do you want us to keep them for ages until they have children for three generations?"

Protests in Turkey have broken out before over the alleged mistreatment of the Uighur community in China. This month protesters in Turkey burned Chinese flags and attacked a group of Koreans they mistook for Chinese, after unconfirmed reports emerged that officials in China were banning Uighurs from fasting during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. China subsequently issued a travel warning against its citizens visiting Turkey.

Last week Turkey accepted 173 Uighur refugees who had been identified as Turkish — a move condemned by China, which said the act amounted to illegal migration.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Related: Massacre at Chinese Train Station Blamed on Ethnic Separatists