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Story highlights

China's embassy in Turkey has issued a travel warning to its citizens

Some Chinese tourists were "attacked and harassed" during recent protests

China and Turkey are at odds over China's treatment of the Muslim Uyghurs

(CNN) —  

China’s embassy in Turkey has issued a travel warning to its citizens after some tourists were “attacked and harassed” during anti-Chinese protests in Istanbul.

The Chinese and Turkish governments are at odds over China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group that live in China’s far western Xinjiang province.

In a statement on its website, the Chinese embassy told Chinese tourists to be aware of their safety and avoid going out alone. It also advised them not to get close to protesters or photograph them.

At the weekend, there were a series of anti-Chinese protests in Istanbul in support of Uyghurs, during which some demonstrators were seen burning Chinese flags.

In one incident, Turkish television showed police intervening on Saturday to stop demonstrators.

They appeared to be pursuing East Asian tourists. Television footage showed a young woman being led away from the scene insisting in English “I’m not Chinese! I’m Korean!”

Anti-Chinese demonstrators

Turkish newspapers have also shown photos of the Turkish-owned “Happy China” restaurant in Istanbul, which had its window smashed, reportedly by anti-Chinese Turkish demonstrators.

Last week Turkey sent a diplomatic note to China, expressing concern and sorrow over reports that authorities in Xinjiang had prevented Uyghurs from fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

READ: China criticized over Ramadan restrictions

Beijing has denied any ban on observing Ramadan had been imposed on its Muslim citizens. In a July 2 statement on the website of China’s embassy in Turkey it said: “Muslim residents’ religious feelings, needs and customs be fully understood, respected and protected.”

But instructions posted on the websites of a number of city governments and schools in Xinjiang suggest that on a local level, there are policies aimed at preventing students, public servants and Communist Party members from observing Ramadan traditions.

For example, the Food and Drug Administration for Xinjiang’s Jinghe County instructs employees to sign a statement that includes a “pledge to obey political discipline to firmly ensure that families that have (Communist) Party members and students will not fast and will not participate in any forms of religious activities.”

Close ties

Turkey has close religious, ethnic, and cultural links to China’s Uyghur community.

Beijing has vehemently denied accusations by human rights organizations, that Uyghurs face widespread discrimination and curtailed religious freedom.

A spate of recent violent incidents have rocked Xinjiang. The arrival of waves of Han Chinese, the country’s predominant ethnic group, over the past decades has fueled ethnic tensions.

On Monday, some pro-government voices in Chinese state media accused Turkey of seeking to stir up trouble in China.

“The Turkish government has already on multiple occasions unreasonably interfered in Chinese internal politics, which indicates “Pan-Turkism” still exists in modern Turkish society,” wrote Adilijan Ablet, a professor of politics at Xinjiang University, in the mass circulation state-run newspaper Global Times.

“We can see that Turkey has ulterior motives regarding interference in the Xinjiang issue,” he added.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying urged Turkey to “respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to exercise prudence in its words and actions on relevant issues.”

IMAGES: Rare access to China’s far west