‘140 killed’ in Xinjiang riot

Author: By Chris Buckley, Reuters

Locals took to the streets of the capital, Urumqi, some burning and smashing
vehicles and confronting ranks of police and anti-riot troops.

The death toll from yesetrday’s riot has risen to 140, the semi-official China
News Agency quoted Li Zhi, the Communist Party Boss of Urumqi City, as
telling a news conference today.

A separate report from the official Xinhua news agency had said the unrest
injured 816, according to regional police authorities. That report had put
the dead at 129.

The government put the number of people on the streets on Sunday at 300 to 500
while other sources had it as high as 3,000.

Chinese police have arrested “several hundred” who participated in
the violence, including more than 10 key players who fanned unrest, Xinhua
said.

The riot followed a protest in Urumqi – a city of 2.3 million residents 3,270
km (2,050 miles) west of Beijing – against government handling of a late
June clash between Han Chinese and Uighur factory workers in far southern
China, where two Uighurs died in Shaoguan.

This morning “the situation was under control”, Xinhua said. There
were no immediate reports of violence in other parts of Xinjiang.

But a senior official there swiftly delivered the government claim that the
unrest was the work of extremist forces abroad, signalling a security
crackdown in the already tense and strategic region near Pakistan and
central Asia.

“After the (Shaoguan) incident, the three forces abroad strived to beat
this up and seized it as an opportunity to attack us, inciting street
protests,” Nuer Baikeli, governor of Xinjiang, said in a speech shown
on Xinjiang television.

The “three forces” refer to groups the government says engage in
separatism, militant action and religious extremism.

“In Xinjiang, nothing is worth speaking of without stability,” said
Nuer Baikeli, a Uighur.

Officials ordered traffic off the streets in parts of Urumqi to ensure there
was no fresh unrest, Xinhua added.

“The city is basically under martial law,” Yang Jin, a dried fruit
merchant in Urumqi, said by telephone.

“It would be wrong for anyone to say he wasn’t afraid, but the situation
looks calm for now.”

An unnamed Chinese official said the “unrest was masterminded by the
World Uyghur (also spelt Uighur) Congress led by Rebiya Kadeer”,
according to Xinhua. “This was a crime of violence that was
pre-meditated and organised,” said the report.

Rebiya Kadeer is a Uighur businesswoman now in exile in the United States
after years in jail, and accused of separatist activities. She did not
answer calls for comment.

But exiled Uighur groups adamantly rejected the Chinese government claim of a
plot. They said the riot was an outpouring of pent-up anger over government
policies and Han Chinese dominance of economic opportunities.

“They’re blaming us as a way to distract the Uighurs’ attention from the
discrimination and oppression that sparked this protest,” said Dilxat
Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress in exile in Sweden.

“It began as a peaceful assembly. There were thousands of people shouting
to stop ethnic discrimination … They are tired of suffering in silence.”

The government’s claims of conspiracy by pro-independence exiles echo the
handling of rioting across Tibetan areas in March last year, which Beijing
also called a plot hatched abroad.

The unrest underscores that Xinjiang, no less than Tibet, faces volatile
ethnic tensions that have accompanied China’s growing economic and political
stake in its western frontiers.

Xinjiang is the doorway to China’s trade and energy ties with central Asia,
and is itself rich in gas, minerals and farm produce. But many Uighurs say
they see little of that wealth.

“The government is applying its ready-made template that all ethnic
tension is caused by external plots,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a China
researcher for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group, who has long
studied Xinjiang.

“This incident could further polarise ethnic groups in Xinjiang … The
official reaction is going to be pretty much what we saw in Tibet – more
repression, tighter control.”

Chinese state television showed rioters throwing rocks at police and
overturning a police car, and smoke billowing from burning vehicles.

“I personally saw several Han people being stabbed. Many people on buses
were scared witless,” Zhang Wanxin, a Urumqi resident, told Reuters by
telephone.

Alim Seytoff, of the Uyghur American Association in Washington D.C., emailed
pictures showing hundreds of locals confronting police in Urumqi, armoured
riot-control vehicles patrolling streets, wounded and bloodied civilians
lying on streets, and ranks of anti-riot police with shields and clubs.

Almost half of Xinjiang’s 20 million people are Uighurs. The population of
Urumqi is mostly Han Chinese, and the city is under tight police security
even in normal times.

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