Chinese pilgrims to Mecca to rise in '07: Xinhua
Shanghai, May 13: The Islamic Association of China plans additional assistance for the growing number of Chinese Muslims making pilgrimages to Mecca, the official Xinhua news agency said today.
Some 8,000 Muslim pilgrims are expected to make the journey to Mecca in 2007, up from 7,000 this year, the agency said, quoting Yang Zhibo, vice chairman of the association charged with organising pilgrimages for Muslims.
China's 20 million Muslims are largely clustered in the west of the country, along the ancient Silk Road and other trading routes. They include a variety of ethnic groups, of which one in particular, the Uighurs, have chafed at Beijing's controls on religion and culture in the oil-rich region of Xinjiang.
Pilgrims can leave China through four cities, Beijing, Lanzhou, Urumqi and Kunming, Xinhua said. A fifth exit port is planned in the Ningxia region, home to many Hui, China's second largest Muslim group.
Chartered Air China flights would carry pilgrims direct to Mecca, Xinhua said, citing sources with the airline.