By Robin Emmott, Sabine Siebold and Arshad Mohammed BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO allies plan to send patrol aircraft and missiles to strengthen Ankara's air defenses on its border with Syria, officials said on Tuesday, following Turkey's shooting-down of a Russian bomber. As NATO countries seek to reassure Ankara over the fallout of Russia's incursions into its air space, a decision by Germany and the United States to remove their Patriot missile batteries from Turkey left other allies to fill the gap. While the German and U.S. steps were announced weeks ago, Russia's surprise intervention in Syria's civil war in September has galvanized NATO countries to offer additional help to Turkey's air force. Spain is now the only NATO nation with Patriots in Turkey. "We must make full use of the capabilities we have to counter threats on NATO's southern flank," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told Reuters in Brussels during meetings with other NATO foreign ministers, as offers of ships and aircraft began to trickle in from allies. "We must support our ally Turkey," he said. Diplomats said measures are likely to include more ships from NATO members in the eastern Mediterranean, more NATO planes based in the Turkish base at Incirlik and more missile defense batteries in addition to that of Spain. Foreign ministers said in a statement that the situation on Turkey's border with Syria and Iraq was "highly unstable" and committed to increase Turkey's air defenses, which they described as "assurance measures". "We remain determined ... to continue developing additional NATO assurance measures and allies are working to prepare other possible contributions," ministers said. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he expected a decision on a package "within weeks" but sought to portray the reinforcements as separate from Russia's air incursions and called for Russia and Turkey to seek a solution to the tensions. INTERCEPTOR JETS NATO deployed its Patriot surface-to-air missiles along the border in January 2013 to shoot down any missiles from Syria's conflict fired into Turkish territory. Ankara had appealed to the alliance to maintain the defenses even before the flare-up of tensions with Russia over air space violations. Turkey shot down a Russian bomber in its air space on Nov. 24, the first known incident of its kind since the Cold War and one that has deeply strained ties between Turkey and Russia. Moscow, which denies violating Turkish air space, has responded to the incident by announcing it will deploy its advanced S-400 missile defense system that can hit missiles and aircraft up to 400 km (250 miles) away. Russian news agencies also reported that Su-34 fighter bombers were in action in Syria on Monday for the first time, equipped with air-to-air missiles for self-defense. While the Turkish air force has shown it is capable of intercepting Russian jets on bombing raids in Syria that stray into Turkish air space, ministers say sending military support to Turkey is also designed to reassure Ankara and calm tensions. Some, including Germany and the Netherlands, want Turkey and NATO headquarters to discuss the air incursions with Russia. "There is a necessity to talk military and military between NATO and the Russian Federation to avoid these kinds of incidents, conflicts, because they are very risky," Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told reporters. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for NATO envoys to hold a special meeting with Russia. Such meetings were suspended by NATO foreign ministers in April last year after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. So far, the United States has moved special fighter jets designed to intercept bombers and reconnaissance aircraft to the Turkish NATO air base Incirlik, while Britain has said it will also send jets to the region once NATO's decision is formalized. Germany and Denmark are sending ships to the NATO fleet in the eastern Mediterranean. NATO could also send its surveillance planes, called Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), that can be used to direct air fights too. (Reporting by Robin Emmott, Sabine Siebold and Arshad Mohammed; Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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When the government ordered women in her mostly Muslim community to be fitted with contraceptive devices, Qelbinur Sedik pleaded for an exemption. She was nearly 50 years old, she told officials in Xinjiang. She had obeyed the government’s birth limits and had only one child. It was no use. The workers threatened to take her to the police if she continued resisting, she said. She gave in and went to a government clinic where a doctor, using metal forceps, inserted an intrauterine device to prevent pregnancy. She wept through the procedure. “I felt like I was no longer a normal woman,” Sedik said, choking up as she described the 2017 ordeal. “Like I was missing something.” Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York Times Across much of China, authorities are encouraging women to have more children, as they try to stave off a demographic crisis from a declining birthrate. But in the far western region of Xinjiang, they are forcing them to have fewer, as they tighten their grip on Muslim ethnic minorities. It is part of a vast and repressive social reengineering campaign by a Communist Party determined to eliminate any perceived challenge to its rule, in this case, ethnic separatism. Over the past few years, the party, under its top leader, Xi Jinping, has moved aggressively to subdue Uyghurs and other Central Asian minorities in Xinjiang, putting hundreds of thousands into internment camps and prisons. Authorities have placed the region under tight surveillance, sent residents to work in factories and placed children in boarding schools. By targeting Muslim women, the authorities are going even further, attempting to orchestrate a demographic shift that will affect the population for generations. Birthrates in the region have already plunged in recent years, as the use of invasive birth control procedures has risen, findings that were previously documented by a researcher, Adrian Zenz, with The Associated Press. While authorities have said the procedures are voluntary, interviews with more than a dozen Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim women and men from Xinjiang, as well as a review of official statistics, government notices and reports in the state-run media, depict a coercive effort by the Chinese Communist Party to control the community’s reproductive rights. Authorities pressured women to use IUDs or get sterilized. As they recuperated at home, government officials were sent to live with them to watch for signs of discontent. One woman described having to endure her minder’s groping. If they had too many children or refused contraceptive procedures, they faced steep fines or, worse, detention in an internment camp. In the camps, the women were at risk of even more abuse. Some former detainees say they were made to take drugs that stopped their menstrual cycles. One woman said she had been raped in a camp. To rights advocates and Western officials, the government’s repression in Xinjiang is tantamount to crimes against humanity and genocide, in large part because of the efforts to stem the population growth of Muslim minorities. The Trump administration in January was the first government to declare the crackdown a genocide, with reproductive oppression as a leading reason. The Biden administration affirmed the label in March. Sedik’s experience, reported in The Guardian and elsewhere, helped form the basis for the decision by the U.S. government. “It was one of the most detailed and compelling first-person accounts we had,” said Kelley E. Currie, a former U.S. ambassador who was involved in the government’s discussions. “It helped to put a face on the horrifying statistics we were seeing.” Beijing has accused its critics of pushing an anti-China agenda. The recent declines in the region’s birthrates, the government has said, were the result of authorities’ fully enforcing long-standing birth restrictions. The sterilizations and contraceptive procedures, it said, freed women from backward attitudes about procreation and religion. “Whether to have birth control or what contraceptive method they choose are completely their own wishes,” Xu Guixiang, a Xinjiang government spokesman, said at a news conference in March. “No one nor any agency shall interfere.” To women in Xinjiang, the orders from the government were clear: They did not have a choice. Last year, a community worker in Urumqi, the regional capital, where Sedik had lived, sent messages saying women between 18 and 59 had to submit to pregnancy and birth control inspections. “If you fight with us at the door and if you refuse to cooperate with us, you will be taken to the police station,” the worker wrote, according to screenshots of the WeChat messages that Sedik shared with The New York Times. “Do not gamble with your life,” one message read, “don’t even try.” ‘I Lost All Hope in Myself’ All her life, Sedik, an ethnic Uzbek, had thought of herself as a model citizen. After she graduated from college, she married and threw herself into her work, teaching Chinese to Uyghur elementary school students. Mindful of the rules, Sedik did not get pregnant until she had gotten approval from her employer. She had only one child, a daughter, in 1993. Sedik could have had two children. The rules at the time allowed ethnic minorities to have slightly bigger families than those of the majority Han Chinese ethnic group, particularly in the countryside. The government even awarded Sedik a certificate of honor for staying within the limits. Then, in 2017, everything changed. As the government corralled Uyghurs and Kazakhs into mass internment camps, it moved in tandem to ramp up enforcement of birth controls. Sterilization rates in Xinjiang surged by almost sixfold from 2015 to 2018, to just over 60,000 procedures, even as they plummeted around the country, according to calculations by Zenz. The campaign in Xinjiang is at odds with a broader push by the government since 2015 to encourage births, including by providing tax subsidies and free IUD removals. But from 2015 to 2018, Xinjiang’s share of the country’s total new IUD insertions increased, even as use of the devices fell nationwide. The contraception campaign appeared to work. Birthrates in minority-dominated counties in the region plummeted from 2015 to 2018, based on Zenz’s calculations. Several of these counties have stopped publishing population data, but Zenz calculated that the birthrates in minority areas probably continued to fall in 2019 by just over 50% from 2018, based on figures from other counties. The sharp drop in birthrates in the region was “shocking” and clearly in part a result of the campaign to tighten enforcement of birth control policies, said Wang Feng, a professor of sociology and an expert in Chinese population policies at the University of California, Irvine. But other factors could include a fall in the number of women of childbearing age, later marriages and postponed births, he said. As the government pushes back against growing criticism, it has withheld some key statistics, including annually published county-level data on birthrates and birth control use for 2019. Other official data for the region as a whole showed a steep drop in IUD insertions and sterilizations that year, though the number of sterilizations was still mostly higher than before the campaign began. In Beijing’s depiction, the campaign is a victory for the region's Muslim women. “In the process of deradicalization, some women’s minds have also been liberated,” a January report by a Xinjiang government research center read. “They have avoided the pain of being trapped by extremism and being turned into reproductive tools.” Women like Sedik, who had obeyed the rules, were not spared. After the IUD procedure, Sedik suffered from heavy bleeding and headaches. She later had the device secretly removed, then reinserted. In 2019, she decided to be sterilized. “The government had become so strict, and I could no longer take the IUD,’” said Sedik, who now lives in the Netherlands after fleeing China in 2019. “I lost all hope in myself.” ‘The Women of Xinjiang Are in Danger’ The penalties for not obeying the government were steep. A Han Chinese woman who violated the birth regulations would face a fine, while a Uyghur or Kazakh woman would face possible detention. When Gulnar Omirzakh had her third child in 2015, officials in her northern village registered the birth. But three years later, they said she had violated birth limits and owed $2,700 in fines. Officials said they would detain Omirzakh and her two daughters if she did not pay. She borrowed money from her relatives. Later, she fled to Kazakhstan. “The women of Xinjiang are in danger,” Omirzakh said in a telephone interview. “The government wants to replace our people.” The threat of detention was real. Three women told The Times they had met other detainees in internment camps who had been locked up for violating birth restrictions. Dina Nurdybay, a Kazakh woman, said she helped one woman write a letter to the authorities in which she blamed herself for being ignorant and having too many children. Such accounts are corroborated by a 137-page government document leaked last year from Karakax County, in southwestern Xinjiang, which revealed that one of the most common reasons cited for detention was violating birth planning policies. Those who refused to terminate illegal pregnancies or pay fines would be referred to the internment camps, according to one government notice from a county in Ili, unearthed by Zenz, the researcher. Once women disappeared into the region’s internment camps — facilities operated under secrecy — many were subjected to interrogations. For some, the ordeal was worse. Tursunay Ziyawudun was detained in a camp in Ili prefecture for 10 months for traveling to Kazakhstan. She said that on three occasions, she was taken to a dark cell where two to three masked men raped her and used electric batons to forcibly penetrate her. “You become their toy,” Ziyawudun said in a telephone interview from the United States, where she now lives, as she broke down sobbing. “You just want to die at the time, but unfortunately you don’t.” Gulbahar Jalilova, the third former detainee, said in an interview that she had been beaten in a camp and that a guard exposed himself during an interrogation and wanted her to perform oral sex. The three former detainees, along with two others who spoke to The Times, also described being regularly forced to take unidentified pills or receive injections of medication that caused nausea and fatigue. Eventually, a few of them said, they stopped menstruating. The former detainees’ accounts could not be independently verified because tight restrictions in Xinjiang make unfettered access to the camps impossible. The Chinese government has forcefully denied all allegations of abuse in the facilities. “The sexual assault and torture cannot exist,” said Xu, the regional spokesman, at a news briefing in February. Beijing has sought to undermine the credibility of the women who have spoken out, accusing them of lying and of poor morals, all while claiming to be a champion of women’s rights. ‘We Are All Chinese’ Even in their homes, the women did not feel safe. Uninvited Chinese Communist Party cadres would show up and had to be let in. The party sends out more than a million workers to regularly visit, and sometimes stay in, the homes of Muslims, as part of a campaign called “Pair Up and Become Family.” To many Uyghurs, the cadres were little different from spies. The cadres were tasked with reporting on whether the families they visited showed signs of “extremist behavior.” For women, this included any resentment they might have felt about state-mandated contraceptive procedures. When the party cadres came to stay in 2018, Zumret Dawut had just been forcibly sterilized. Four Han cadres visited her in Urumqi, bringing yogurt and eggs to help with the recovery, she recalled. They were also armed with questions: Did she have any issues with the sterilization operation? Was she dissatisfied with the government’s policy? “I was so scared that if I said the wrong thing they would send me back to the camps,” said Dawut, a mother of three. “So I just told them, ‘We are all Chinese people and we have to do what the Chinese law says.’” But the officials’ unwelcome gaze settled also on Dawut’s 11-year-old daughter, she said. One cadre, a 19-year-old man who was assigned to watch the child, would sometimes call Dawut and suggest taking her daughter to his home. She was able to rebuff him with excuses that the child was sick, she said. Other women reported having to fend off advances even in the company of their husbands. Sedik, the Uzbek teacher, was still recovering from a sterilization procedure when her “relative” — her husband’s boss — showed up. She was expected to cook, clean and entertain him even though she was in pain from the operation. Worse, he would ask to hold her hand or to kiss and hug her, she said. Mostly, Sedik agreed to his requests, terrified that if she refused, he would tell the government that she was an extremist. She rejected him only once: when he asked to sleep with her. It went on like this every month or so for two years — until she left the country. “He would say, ‘Don’t you like me? Don’t you love me?’” she recalled. “‘If you refuse me, you are refusing the government.’” “I felt so humiliated, oppressed and angry,” she said. “But there was nothing I could do.” This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company
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