Activists face off as Uighur film shown in Melbourne


June 18, 2010 Updated Aug 8, 2009 at 11:10 AM EDT

Pro-China protesters and Uighur activists traded insults outside an Australian film screening on Saturday, with each side condemning the other as "terrorists" who incited unrest in restive Xinjiang region.

Police had to break up a heated exchange between supporters of exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer and detractors who said Beijing was right to label her a "criminal" who started last month's violence that left at least 197 dead.

Dozens of protesters from either side rallied outside the 1,500-seat Melbourne Town Hall, where a sell-out screening was under way of "10 Conditions of Love," a film about Kadeer's life, at which she was the guest of honour.

"Two thousand years ago China was there (in Xinjiang)," yelled Stanley Li, objecting to the Kadeer biopic and her presence inside the venue.

"It's not appropriate to show this film in public," he said.

"I care about these people in China and they are being killed by terrorists," added pro-China demonstrator Bruce Jiang.

Uighur advocate Hikmat Hason countered with an accusation that Li and his group were the terrorists, sparking a heated row which had to be broken up by police.

Kadeer, exiled head of the World Uighur Congress, was escorted through the back door of the venue under tight security, organisers for the Melbourne International Film Festival said.

Speaking at the Town Hall ahead of the screening, Kadeer said she didn't see the film as political.

"It's the Chinese government that politicised this, the film, and I think the media plays a very important role in basically highlighting our situation," she told public broadcaster ABC.

"I'm a mother, I'm a woman of peace. I have always been peacefully struggling for the freedom and human rights of the Uighur people, I will continue to do so peacefully, until the day when my people become free," she added.

Police said there were extra officers on hand to deal with an anticipated crowd of up to 100 people, but the gathering had been relatively small and peaceful and no arrests had been made.

"It was all a bit of a non-event, it wasn't anywhere near as big as anticipated," a spokeswoman told AFP.

The screening was moved to the Town Hall earlier this week due to unprecedented demand for tickets, fuelled by intense controversy surrounding the film and Kadeer's visit, which was strongly objected to by Beijing.

Beijing had urged Australia not to give Kadeer a visa, and all Chinese-language films and funding were withdrawn from the festival programme after it refused to pull the Kadeer biopic.

China's envoy to Melbourne Shen Weilian urged the city's mayor to stop the Town Hall screening or risk jeopardising its sister-city relationship with Tianjin, The Age newspaper said.

"He expressed in the very strongest terms his Government's concerns about the screening of the film," mayor Robert Doyle told the paper.

"I indicated it was not a decision of council and the screening did not carry in any way the endorsement of council. But I also indicated that I would not be instructing the chief executive officer to prohibit the screening of the film," he added.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith on Friday defended Kadeer's visit, but assured China that Australia did not necessarily agree with her views and respected China's "territorial integrity and sovereignty" over Xinjiang.

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