China says at least 140 dead in rioting by ethnic Uighurs

7th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

The violence in the regional capital Urumqi on Sunday involved thousands of people and triggered an enormous security crackdown across Xinjiang, where tensions have long simmered amid Uighur claims of repressive Chinese rule.

Urumqi -- China said Monday at least 140 people were killed when Muslim Uighurs rioted in its restive Xinjiang region in some of the deadliest ethnic unrest to have hit the country for decades.

The violence in the regional capital Urumqi on Sunday involved thousands of people and triggered an enormous security crackdown across Xinjiang, where tensions have long simmered amid Uighur claims of repressive Chinese rule.

"People are staying inside, the best thing for you is to go back to your hotel, that will be safe," one businessman near Urumqi's bazaar district -- where much of the violence unfolded -- told AFP.

The official Xinhua news agency, citing local government officials, said several hundred people had been arrested for their involvement in the unrest, which authorities blamed on Uighurs.

But exiled Uighur groups accused Chinese security forces, saying they had over-reacted to peaceful protests and opened fire.

At least 140 people were killed and 828 injured in the rioting, Xinjiang government spokesman Wu Nong told AFP, and Xinhua warned that the death toll would rise.

Dramatic footage broadcast of the unrest by the state-run CCTV network showed men turning over a police car and smashing its windows, a woman being kicked as she lay on the ground and buses and other vehicles aflame.

Han Chinese businesspeople told AFP there were around 3,000 Uighur protesters, a figure repeated by exiled Uighur groups.

"The Uighurs attacked motorists with rocks," said one Han woman who saw the riot unfold from the 11th floor of a local hospital.

"They just attacked the Han people."

The Xinjiang regional government blamed Rebiya Kadeer, the Uighurs' leader who is living in exile in the United States, for orchestrating the unrest.

"An initial investigation showed the violence was masterminded by the separatist World Uighur Congress led by Rebiya Kadeer," the government said in a statement, according to Xinhua.

But Kadeer and other Uighur exiles laid the blame on Chinese authorities.

Alim Seytoff, general secretary of the Uighur American Association, told AFP in Washington the Uighurs were protesting over an ethnically charged brawl late last month at a factory in southern China that left two Uighurs dead.

"These young Uighurs peacefully took to the streets but more than 1,000 armed Chinese police came out," Seytoff told AFP of Sunday's violence.

"What we were told is that they began to shoot indiscriminately."

Riot police and other security forces armed with machine guns and carrying shields were seen in Urumqi on Monday, preventing further protests, according to an AFP reporter here.

Truckloads of German Shepherd police dogs were also brought into Urumqi and large swathes of the Muslim quarter of the city were sealed off, the reporter said.

The unrest echoed deadly violence in Buddhist Tibet in March last year when Tibetans stormed through the streets of the region's capital, Lhasa, attacking Han Chinese in frustration at what they claimed was repressive Chinese rule.

Many of Xinjiang's roughly eight million Uighurs similarly say they have suffered political, cultural and religious persecution.

As in Tibet, they also complain about Han Chinese moving into Xinjiang and dominating economic and political life.

Xinjiang is a rugged region of vast deserts and mountains that borders central Asia, and the Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking people who have closer cultural links to their regional neighbours than the Han Chinese.

This year marks 60 years since communist Chinese troops entered Xinjiang and "peacefully liberated" the region. Advocates of independence for the area have maintained the move was an invasion.

The unrest drew concern overseas, with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon responding to a question about it in Geneva by calling on all governments to respect basic freedoms and resolve domestic issues peacefully.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano also said he had raised the issue of human rights with his visiting Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.

Dan Martin/AFP/Expatica

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