Turkish nationalists protesting China’s treatment of ethnic Uighur Muslims attacked a group of Korean tourists in the heart of Istanbul’s old city on Saturday, mistaking them for Chinese nationals.
Hundreds of angry protesters marched toward the Topkapi Palace on the banks of the Bosphorus Strait in a show of solidarity with the Turkic Uyghurs, who complain of cultural and religious suppression under Chinese rule.
Shouting “allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is greatest,” they attacked some Koreans outside the Topkapi Palace, which is visited by thousands of tourists every day.
The tourists were rescued by riot police, who fired tear gas to disperse the attackers, identified as members of the notorious far-right Grey Wolves closely affiliated with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Video footage by Dogan news agency showed a distraught Korean tourist telling reporters: “I’m not Chinese, I’m Korean.”
The incident came amid a row between Ankara and Beijing over Turkish media reports of restrictions on Muslim Uyghurs worshiping and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
Turkey this week summoned the Chinese ambassador to convey its concern over the alleged restrictions. Beijing in turn denied the allegations and demanded that Turkey clarify its statements.
A total of 173 Uyghurs arrived in Turkey from Thailand on Tuesday where they were being held after fleeing China. Beijing expressed displeasure with Turkey on Friday for accepting the group.
Over the last week hundreds of Turkish nationalists across the country have demonstrated to protest China’s alleged Ramadan bans.
A popular Chinese restaurant in Istanbul was attacked on Wednesday and had its windows smashed by a group protesters who did not realize it was Turkish-owned and that its chef was an ethnic Uyghur.
A predominantly Muslim country, Turkey shares linguistic and religious links with the Uighur community, which has several associations here.