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Chinese leader begins Turkey talks amid Uighur protests
by Staff Writers
Ankara (AFP) Feb 21, 2012

Turkey's President Abdullah Gul (R) and China's Vice President Xi Jinping (L) stand during a signing ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, on February 21, 2012. Xi began talks with Turkey's leaders on issues such as the crisis in Syria and trade after a flag-burning protest by activists from China's Uighur minority. Photo courtesy AFP.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping on Tuesday began talks with Turkey's leaders on issues including the crisis in Syria and trade after a flag-burning protest by activists from China's Uighur minority.

Ahead of Xi's meeting with President Abdullah Gul, around 100 Uighurs demonstrated near the hotel where the Chinese leader was staying in central Ankara.

The demonstrators burnt Chinese flags and chanted slogans against Beijing's treatment of the Muslim Turkic-speaking Uighur people in its far-western Xinjiang region as the riot police kept them away from Xi's hotel.

A predominantly Muslim country, Turkey shares linguistic and religious links with the Uighur community, which has several associations here.

Ankara accepts China's sovereignty over Xinjiang, but heavily criticised the 2009 violence in the region, denouncing what it described as "atrocities".

Trade will be one of the major agenda items during the talks between Turkish officials and Xi, who is expected to be the next president of China.

Sources in the Turkish presidency said several cooperation deals in the areas of agriculture, finance and banking were signed on Tuesday to strengthen strategic partnership between Ankara and Beijing.

The two countries' central banks also signed a currency swap agreement worth 10 billion yuan ($1.58 billion), Turkey's central bank announced, adding that the deal was effective for three years and would boost trade and investments.

The crisis in neighbouring Syria and the dispute between Iran and world powers over Tehran's nuclear programme are expected to figure high in Xi's talks with Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as both issues closely concern China, permanent member of the UN Security Council.

China recently vetoed a UN resolution aimed at stopping the months-long bloodshed in Syria. A close ally of Iran, it has criticised recent EU and US sanctions against the Islamic state, and called for nuclear talks to resume.

Turkey has repeatedly called for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear row with Iran while spearheading regional condemnation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's deadly crackdown on opponents which has claimed more than 6,000 lives according to monitoring groups.

In the Turkish parliament, Xi praised Turkey's and China's endeavours with regard to problems worldwide.

"In recent years, Turkey and China have been playing an important role on international and regional matters," he was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency during a meeting with parliament speaker Cemil Cicek.

On the last stop of his tour that has taken him to the United States and Ireland, Xi was due to fly to Istanbul later in the day to meet Erdogan, who is recovering from a second intestinal operation at his residence there.

Accompanied by a large number of businessmen, Xi will on Wednesday attend a business forum in Istanbul.

The trade volume between Turkey and China has soared from one billion dollars in 2000 to 19.5 billion in 2010, according to official figures. But the balance of trade is heavily in China's favour.

Turkey largely exports raw materials and chemicals the Chinese economy is in need of while intermediate goods constitute 76 percent of Turkish imports from this country, according to the foreign ministry.

Energy could be a key area in the two countries' future relations but analysts say cooperation is not easy to come by as both are dependent on oil and gas, and competing for Caspian-based energy resources.

China and Turkey have set a timetable to increase their trade volume to 50 billion dollars by 2015 and to 100 billion by 2020, boldly vowing to trade in their national currencies.

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