Police have arrested 1,434 suspects in
connection with the worst ethnic violence in decades in China's
western Xinjiang region, which killed at least 156 people, state
media reported Tuesday.
The arrests come amid a security clampdown on the region, with
hundreds of paramilitary police with shields, rifles and clubs
taking control of the streets of the capital, Urumqi, where the
riots took place on Sunday.
The violence does not bode well for China's efforts to mollify
long-simmering ethnic tensions between the minority Uighur people
and the ethnic Han Chinese in Xinjiang - a sprawling region three
times the size of Texas that shares borders with Pakistan,
Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries.
Mobile phone service and the social networking site Twitter have
been blocked, and Internet links also were cut or slowed down.
A nonviolent protest by 200 people was broken up in a second
city, Kashgar, and the official Xinhua News Agency said police had
evidence that demonstrators were trying to organize more unrest in
Kashgar, Yili and Aksu.
It said police had raided several groups plotting unrest in
Dawan township in Urumqi, as well as at a former race course that
is home to a transient population.
The unrest in Urumqi began Sunday after 1,000 to 3,000
protesters gathered at the People's Square and protested the June
25 deaths of Uighur factory workers killed in a riot in southern
China. Xinhua said two died; other sources put the figure higher.
Internet and social networking reports on the incident had raised
tensions in Xinjiang over the last two weeks.
Many Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) haven't been wooed by the
rapid economic development. Some want independence, while others
feel they're being marginalized in their homeland. The Han -
China's ethnic majority - have been flooding into Xinjiang as the
region becomes more developed.
The government often says the Uighurs should be grateful for the
roads, railways, schools, hospitals and oil fields it has been
building in Xinjiang, a region known for scorching deserts and
snowy mountain ranges.
A similar situation exists in Tibet, where a violent protest
last year left many Tibetan communities living under clamped-down
security ever since.
"The Han Chinese say we all belong to the same country. We're
all part of one big family," said Memet, a restaurant worker who
like other Uighurs declined to give his full name because he feared
the police. "But the Han always treat us separately."
A Han Chinese shopkeeper, who only gave his surname Wang because
the ethnic issue is so sensitive, disagreed. "Those who cause such
trouble are criminals," he said. "They're never happy with what
Sunday's violence was notable because it happened in Urumqi,
which has been relatively peaceful and hasn't been a hotbed of
religious or political agitation. In other restive Xinjiang cities,
red propaganda banners are filled with slogans encouraging ethnic
harmony. But most of the banners in Urumqi touted anti-drug and
fire prevention campaigns.
The population of 2.3 million is also overwhelmingly Han Chinese
in the city, a mixture of drab concrete apartment blocks and
gleaming new office towers.
It is not clear how the violence started, as police confronted
the protesters. Rioters began flipping over barricades, smashing
shop windows and burning cars, according to media and witness
State television video showed protesters attacking and kicking
people on the ground, and the government said many Han Chinese were
injured by rampaging Uighurs.
There were no independent figures on the ethnic breakdown of the
casualties. Xinhua quoted Li Yi, head of the publicity department
of the Communist Party in Xinjiang, as saying Tuesday that 129 men
and 27 women died. Li said 1,080 people were hurt in the rioting.
Chinese officials have singled out the leader of the U.S.-based
Uyghur American Association - Rebiya Kadeer, a former prominent
Xinjiang businesswoman now living in Washington - for inciting the
"Rebiya had phone conversations with people in China on July 5
in order to incite, and Web sites ... were used to orchestrate the
incitement and spread propaganda," Xinjiang Gov. Nur Bekri said
Monday on television.
Kadeer said Monday that she had learned through Web sites of the
planned protests and called her brother to urge him and other
family members to stay away.
"The Chinese government always blames me and the World Uyghur
Congress for problems over there," Kadeer said in Washington, D.C.
"Any Uighur who dares to express the slightest protest, however
peaceful, is dealt with by brutal force."
While she blamed the government for the recent violence, she
also condemned "the violent actions of some of the Uighur
demonstrators" and said her organization supports only peaceful
The government has accused Kadeer of having a hand in many of
Xinjiang's problems since her release from prison into U.S. exile
in 2005. The Foreign Ministry has publicly accused the 62-year-old
of having links to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, a group the
U.S. put on its terrorist blacklist.
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