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Tension Runs High in China’s Uighur Region

Posted July. 08, 2009 09:20,   


Bloody clashes between police and protesters have erupted in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, for two days from Sunday. Tension is running high and retaliatory attacks are likely between the Uighurs and Han Chinese.

Many Han Chinese carrying clubs, steel pipes and shovels ran around the city, saying, “Let’s beat Uighurs to death.” In the People’s Square and South Gate where the riots erupted Sunday, hundreds of Han Chinese with steel pipes moved in groups, while shouting.

Thousands of Han Chinese filled up the ten-lane road nearby Hongshan, or “red hill,” located in the center of Urumqi and marched while shouting against a village of Uighurs.

Across Urumqi, men and women with weapons are on guard in front of stores. When asked why he is armed, a Han Chinese man with a steel pipe answered, “It’s not about retaliating against Uighurs, but about protecting myself.”

Despite rising fears of retaliatory attacks, Chinese police have not proactively attempted to restore law and order.

○ Both consider themselves victims

As foreign journalists rushed to the scene of the riots around 10:30 a.m. yesterday, hundreds of Uighurs went to talk to them and expressed their anger and pleaded innocence. Uighurs occupied roads nearby a racecourse in Tianshan district, where many Uighurs live, and faced a 500-strong police force with five armored vehicles, rubber bullets, shields, clubs and helmets.

Uighurs screamed that thousands of police attacked the Uighur neighborhood of Heitan late Monday and arrested countless men, including those who had never participated in riots.

Other Uighurs claimed that Chinese police severely beat resisting Uighurs and even shot some to death. In the protest, a Uighur woman in black clothes and using crutches asked Chinese police to release her husband and brothers. Another cried that her 26-year-old husband was missing since late Sunday.

Han Chinese grinded their teeth while watching Uighurs describe themselves as victims, however. One Han Chinese said he saw dozens of people burned or beaten to death in the area. After quietly watching the scene of the crimes, he said he evaded Uighurs who pursued him.

○ A state of siege

Uighur villages including the Erdaoqiao market were cordoned off yesterday on the third day after the riots broke out. As light armored vehicles and armed police blocked passages leading to the villages, nobody could enter or leave the area. Telephone service was also cut off.

As curfews were imposed on several main streets of the city, Urumqi looked like a ghost town at night. Only armored vehicles and military trucks full of armed police barreled down the roads. The People’s Square, where the first riot broke out, is under tight security around the clock.