Protesters from a Muslim ethnic group clashed
with police in China's far west Sunday, with activists saying
police fired shots in the air and used batons to disperse a crowd
that had swelled to nearly 1,000.
State media said at least three ethnic Han Chinese were killed,
while an activist group said one demonstrator may have died.
Protesters, mostly from the Uighur ethnic group, set at least
one car on fire, overturned police barriers and attacked buses in
several hours of violence that appeared to subside somewhat as
police and military presence intensified into the night, according
to participants and witnesses.
Tensions between Uighurs and Chinese are never far from the
surface in Xinjiang province, China's vast Central Asian buffer
Accounts differed over what happened Sunday in the city of
Urumqi, but the violence seemed to have started when a crowd of
protesters - who started out peaceful - refused to disperse.
Adam Grode, an American Fulbright scholar studying in Urumqi,
said he heard explosions and also saw a few people being carried
off on stretchers and a Han Chinese man with blood on his shirt
entering a hospital.
He said he saw police pushing people back with tear gas, fire
hoses and batons, and protesters knocking over police barriers and
smashing bus windows.
"Every time the police showed some force, the people would jump
the barriers and get back on the street. It was like a
cat-and-mouse sort of game," said Grode, 26.
People started to disperse after two hours, he said, but
hundreds of police and soldiers poured into the city in the night
with two dozen police buses, trucks, and other security vehicles
and rounded up Uighurs who were sitting on street curbs.
The government's Xinhua News Agency quoted unnamed officials
saying that at least three ethnic Han Chinese were killed in the
violence, in which the crowd attacked passers-by, torched vehicles
and interrupted traffic on some roads.
The demonstration started peacefully with more than 300 people
staging a silent sit-down protest in People's Square in Urumqi to
demand an investigation into a brawl June 25 between Uighur and Han
Chinese workers at a toy factory in southern China, said Gulinisa
Maimaiti, a 32-year-old employee of a foreign company who took part
in the protest.
Two reportedly died in last month's factory melee in southern
Guangdong province, but Gulisina said protesters believed the real
figure was higher.
"We are mourning our compatriots who were beaten to death in
Guangdong," Gulinisa said in a phone interview.
She said the crowd grew to 1,000 people, and when they refused
to disperse, police pinned protesters to the ground before taking
some 40 protesters away.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the pro-independence World Uighur
Congress based in Germany, said he received calls from Urumqi
describing the protest as peaceful until police used force to try
to clear the square.
Dilxat said some protesters were beaten badly. One of his
informants told him that one person was killed. The account could
not immediately be corroborated.
Grode, the American student, said he saw groups of Uighurs
harassing Han Chinese people who were trying to leave the scene.
A 23-year-old woman who belongs to another Muslim ethnic
minority, the Hui, said the public bus she was on was attacked by
dozens of Uighurs who were using sticks and bricks to smash the
windows of the bus.
"I jumped off the bus to escape and got cut on my arms by the
broken glass," said the woman, who declined to give her name for
fear of retaliation. She said mobile phone communications in the
city appeared to have been disrupted.
Video shot from a building nearby and photos from mobile phones
taken from the protest showed people running from police and a car
on fire. In other shots, smoke rises in the distance and fire
engines race to the protest.
The Urumqi police and city government would not comment about
Uighur separatists have waged a sporadic campaign for
independence in recent decades, and the military, armed police and
riot squads maintain a visible presence in the region. After a few
years of relative calm, separatist violence picked up last year
with attacks against border police and bombings of government
A protest by several hundred Uighurs in the city of Yining in
1997 against religious restrictions turned into an anti-Chinese
uprising that the military put down, leaving at least 10 dead.
Four Uighur detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in
Cuba were recently released and relocated to Bermuda despite
Beijing's objections because U.S. officials have said they fear the
men would be executed if they returned to China. Officials have
also been trying to transfer 13 others to the Pacific nation of