Over 140 killed in ethnic unrest

July 6th, 2009 by

BEIJING, China (CNN) — At least 140 people were dead and more than 800 others injured after weekend violence in China’s far west Xinjiang region, the officials said Monday, according to state-run media.
The death toll was expected to climb, according to a regional government spokesman, as reported by China’s official Xinhua news agency.

Ethnic Uyghur residents in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, took to the streets Sunday afternoon in a rare public protest that prompted a police lock-down of the city.

By Monday, police had arrested several hundred participants, the Xinjiang Public Security Department said, according to Xinhua. Police were searching for about 90 other key figures.

“Traffic control was partially lifted Monday morning in parts of Urumqi … but tension still exists in the city,” Xinhua said. “Debris has been cleared from the roads and normal traffic has resumed. Workers are still pulling away damaged vehicles from the worst-affected roads in the city.”

Most businesses in the area where the violence took place remained closed on Monday, Xinhua said.

State-run media reported that protesters attacked passersby, burned public buses and blocked traffic on Sunday. The report did not say how many people took part in the protest or what their grievances were.

But a witness in Urumqi told CNN that, soon after the protest started at about 5 p.m., hundreds of protesters “grew into easily over 1,000 — men, women and children, all ethnic Uyghurs — screaming and chanting.”
Police arrived quickly and tried to control the swelling crowd by erecting barriers in the street, but “people pushed them over,” the witness said. “They were throwing rocks at passing cars and buses.” As the violence escalated, hundreds of riot police arrived, the witness said.

“They used tear gas and fire hoses to disperse the crowd. I saw fire trucks, ambulances, armed personnel carriers and what looked like tanks. I heard random gunshots.”

Late Sunday, the witness said, Urumqi was in a lockdown, with hundreds of People’s Liberation Army soldiers in the streets. He reported seeing riot police chasing protesters into alleys and rounding up many of them.

The witness speculated that the protest, which took place in the predominantly Uyghur-populated Bazaar district, may have been a reaction to racial violence in southern China.

The violence reportedly happened at a toy factory in Guangdong province, where many migrants, including Uyghurs, have moved in search of work. A massive brawl reportedly broke out between workers of Uyghur and Han nationalities. Two Uyghurs reportedly died.
Xinjiang is home to many Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic group. China’s constitution guarantees ethnic minorities equal rights and limited autonomy. However, ethnic tensions run deep. Minority groups such as the Uyghurs complain that they are treated as second-class citizens and are subjected to discrimination by the majority Han nationalities.

“What was clear was, the Uyghur protesters were not happy,” the witness in Urumqi said. “They broke windows of public buses, threw bottles and rocks at the police, and harassed what looked like Chinese of Han or Hui nationalities. I saw a Uyghur man kick a Han woman in the behind as she tried to get away from the crowds.”

A spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, a dissident Uyghur group based in Munich, Germany, told CNN that Uyghur people in Urumqi and Xinjiang had told him by telephone that they had seen bodies thrown into military vehicles.

Dilxat Raxit added that tens of thousands of demonstrators had gathered in every Uyghur neighborhood in Urumqi to protest peacefully against what he described as the government’s ethnic cleansing in Guangdong’s Shaoguan City.

After about 40 minutes — during which the crowd shouted slogans, calling the incident in Guangdong’s Shaoguan City a planned ethnic cleansing — the Chinese military began to crack down by sending more than 50 military vehicles, including tanks, carrying troops into Urumqi.

All Uyghurs were ordered off the streets, he said.

Sources in Kashgar said a “massive number” of Chinese People’s Liberation Army forces entered that city as well, and that students were ordered to remain inside.

People were also arrested along roads leading to Urumqi, he said.

“According to the Chinese law, people have the right to protest peacefully,” the World Uyghur Congress said in an appeal. “We call for attention to this kind of ethnic discrimination.”

The government in Xinjiang blamed “foreign forces” for Sunday’s rioting.

“The violence is premeditated, organized violent crime,” said Nur Bekri, chairman of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, the equivalent of a governor. “It was instigated and directed from abroad and carried out by outlaws in the country.”

Bekri accused the World Uyghur Congress of spreading rumors and inciting anger that led to the rioting, in a speech he gave over Xinjiang television.

The World Uyghur Congress is led by Rebuya Kadeer, a successful businesswoman of Uyghur ethnicity, who was detained in 1999 and accused of harming China’s national security. She was freed on bail in 2005 and was allowed to leave for the United States for medical care.
Bekri accused Kadeer of instigating the unrest via the Internet and said the fight at the Guangdong toy factory was exploited to incite ethnic strife.

“We should bear in mind that stability is to the greatest interest of all people in China, including the 21 million-plus people from all ethnic groups in Xinjiang,” he said.

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