Three killed in race riots in western China

 

THE WESTERN Chinese region of Xinjiang experienced the biggest display of ethnic unrest in recent memory yesterday as thousands of Muslim Uighurs took to the streets in protest.

Three people died in the rioting, state media reported. The dead were “three ordinary people of the Han ethnic group”, the Xinhua news agency said.

The protesters smashed up buses, threw stones through shop windows and assaulted Han Chinese passersby, according to a witness, who said the spark was the recent killing of Uighur migrant workers in Guangdong, southern China.

Xinhua reported that vehicles were set on fire and traffic guard rails overturned. Bloodied victims were rushed to hospital in the regional capital, Urumqi, as armed riot police moved in to restore order with tear gas, armoured vehicles and road blocks.

A large section of Urumqi was shut off to vehicles last night, with police manning roadblocks at the perimeter. Witnesses reported large numbers of armed officers inside the cordon. Mobile phone networks appeared to get cut off sporadically.

“There’s a terrible situation today. There were big ethnic riots – there was a lot of fighting,” said one Han resident. “It’s not safe – you can’t go anywhere near there. They’ve blocked it all off. You have to be careful.”

“It’s very dangerous so you can’t go into the centre at all. It’s the Uighurs causing violence,” complained a Han businessman, who said he was unable to get home because of the blocks.

Shaky amateur video of the protest showed large crowds of people blocking several of the main streets in the city as people watched from rooftops. Other streams have been removed by internet censors. It is not known if there were any casualties but local Han Chinese were terrified, according to witnesses.

“I saw a Uighur man kicking a Han or Hui woman,” said the student, who wished to remain anonymous. “In the hospital, I saw a Han man arrive with lots of blood over his shirt, but the Uighur staff paid him no attention.”

“My family didn’t dare go out,” said Yang Yu, a Beijing-based journalist, whose family live in Urumqi. “They live on the 14th floor but they could still hear the people shouting and the emergency vehicles.”

The protests were said to have started when several thousand people rallied in the Grand Bazaar to protest at the death of two Uighur migrants, and injuries suffered by hundreds of others, during an ethnic conflict between workers in a factory in Guangdong last month.

An overseas Chinese news website, Boxun (peacehall.com), showed pictures it said were of the Urumqi riot, including hundreds of civilians pressed against a row of police, burning wreckage on a city street, and anti-riot police in shields and helmets.

Muslim Uighurs are the indigenous ethnic majority of Xinjiang, but the region has experienced an influx of Han Chinese seeking to profit from the region’s oil and gas resources, which has stirred up ethnic resentment. Almost half of Xinjiang’s 20 million people are Uighurs.

Xinjiang has been under increasingly tight security in recent years, especially in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, when the region was hit by several deadly attacks that authorities said were the work of militants. But human rights groups and Uighur independence activists say Beijing grossly exaggerates the threat from militants to justify harsh controls restricting peaceful political demands. – (Guardian Service)