ISTANBUL // Turkish nationalists protesting against China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims attacked a group of Korean tourists in Istanbul’s old city on Saturday, mistaking them for Chinese.
Hundreds of angry protesters marched towards the Topkapi Palace on the banks of the Bosphorus Strait in a show of solidarity with the Turkic Uighurs, who complain of cultural and religious suppression under Chinese rule.
They carried flags representing the Uighurs’ homeland and called for a boycott of Chinese goods. Turkey shares linguistic and religious links with the Uighurs, who have several community groups in the majority Muslim country.
Some of the protesters attacked a group of Koreans outside the Topkapi Palace, which is visited by thousands of tourists every day.
The Korean tourists were rescued by riot police, who fired tear gas to disperse the attackers.
Video footage published by the Dogan news agency showed a distraught Korean tourist saying: “I’m not Chinese, I’m Korean.”
The attackers belonged to a notorious far-right group called the Grey Wolves, who are closely affiliated with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The MHP recently came third in parliamentary elections.
Saturday’s incident came amid a row between Ankara and Beijing over Turkish media reports of restrictions on Muslim Uighurs worshipping and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
Turkey this week summoned the Chinese ambassador to convey its concern over the alleged restrictions.
Beijing denied the allegations and demanded that Turkey clarify its statements.
Over the past week, hundreds of Turkish nationalists across the country have demonstrated to protest against China’s Ramadan bans.
A popular Chinese restaurant in Istanbul was attacked last Wednesday and had its windows smashed by a group of protesters who did not realise it was Turkish-owned, and that its chef was an ethnic Uighur.
Meanwhile, a total of 173 Uighurs arrived in Turkey from Thailand on Tuesday where they were being held after fleeing from China.
Beijing expressed displeasure with Turkey on Friday for accepting the group, but Ankara vowed to keep its doors open to Uighurs fleeing persecution in China.
Citing “cultural and historical bonds”, Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said that the country would continue to welcome its “Uighur brothers”.
“Turkey is keeping its doors open for Uighurs who have arrived or want to come to our doors,” he said.
* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Reuters
and Associated Press