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GENEVA – China on Tuesday once again rejected criticism of its treatment of ethnic Muslims, telling the United Nations that accusations of rights abuses from some countries were "politically driven."
At a regular U.N. review of the country's human rights record, China characterized the far west region of Xinjiang as a former hotbed of extremism that has been stabilized through "training centers" which help people gain employable skills.
Former detainees of such centers, on the other hand, have described the facilities as political indoctrination camps where ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities are forced to renounce their faith and swear loyalty to the ruling Communist Party.
The U.N. has previously said there are credible reports that as many as 1 million people are being held in this form of extrajudicial detention.
At Tuesday's review — part of the Human Rights Council's periodic review process for every member state — the U.S., Canada, Japan and several other countries called on Beijing to address growing concerns over its treatment of Xinjiang Muslims.
U.S. charge d'affaires Mark Cassayre urged China to "immediately release the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of individuals" arbitrarily detained in the region. Representatives from both Canada and the U.K. said the country's human rights situation has "deteriorated."
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng dismissed the censures.
"We will not accept the politically-driven accusations from a few countries that are fraught with biases," Le said.
Yasim Sadiq, the Uighur mayor of Xinjiang's capital of Urumqi, told the session in Geneva that current policies are in line with the people's wishes. He repeated China's frequently cited claim that no terrorist attacks have occurred in the region for 21 months, and that "trainees" who were previously "controlled by extremist ideology" have since immersed themselves in cultural and athletic activities at the centers.
Sadiq said visitors are always welcome in Xinjiang, but he did not address requests from several countries to allow independent UN observers inside the region.
In recent years, Xinjiang has been outfitted with a high-tech security network , making police checkpoints and surveillance cameras ubiquitous throughout the region.
Human Rights Watch said the U.N. review showed the contrast between Beijing's view of its human rights records and "the grim realities."
"China's efforts to whitewash its record have failed to convince a growing number of states who recognize China's deliberate and systemic abuses, and suppression of dissenting voices, can no longer be ignored," John Fisher, the organization's Geneva director, said in an emailed statement.
About 500 people, including ethnic Uighurs but also pro-Tibet demonstrators, marched through Geneva before holding a boisterous, colorful rally at Geneva's landmark three-legged chair outside the U.N. offices.
Chanting "Shame on China" and accusing its government of tyranny and "terrorist" repression, the demonstrators waved light-blue flags representing East Turkistan — some Uighurs' preferred name for Xinjiang — and held aloft photos of loved ones who have gone missing or were taken into custody by Chinese authorities.
Wang reported from Beijing.