ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Protesters stormed the Thai Consulate in Istanbul early Thursday to denounce Thailand’s decision to deport 109 ethnic Uighur migrants back to China, destroying furniture and hurling files and documents out into the yard, according to reports and video footage. Nine people were detained.
The group of some 100 gathered outside the consulate building waving Uighur flags and brought down the Thai flag. They then hurled rocks at the consulate, smashing windows and breaking in to the offices, where they demolished pictures and furniture and threw files out. No one was hurt in the attack.
Police allowed the protesters to pray outside the consulate before taking nine of them away for questioning.
Turkey has cultural ties to the Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority in China’s far west Xinjiang region, and pro-Uighur groups fear those deported face persecution by the Chinese government.
Thai authorities said the 109 were returned to China under an agreement that guarantees their safety.
Last week, Turkey took in a group of 173 Uighur migrants from Thailand, prompting Beijing to express displeasure with Ankara. China said Turkey’s action was tantamount to supporting illegal migration. Thailand said the group had been identified as Turkish.
Turkey’s ties with China had already been strained over unconfirmed reports in Turkey that Uighurs were being mistreated and prevented from worship and fasting during the Muslim month of Ramadan. Protests broke out across Turkey, and on one occasion a group of nationalists in Istanbul tried to attack a group of Korean tourists, mistaking them for Chinese nationals.
Uighurs have complained of cultural and religious suppression as well as economic marginalization under Chinese rule.
Ethnic violence in Xinjiang has left hundreds of people dead over the past two years. Beijing has blamed religious extremism for the violence.