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China Raises Xinjiang Death Toll To 184


Chinese riot police on the streets of Urumqi

Chinese riot police on the streets of Urumqi

URUMQI, China (Reuters) -- China has raised the death toll from ethnic rioting in its far west to 184 and detailed for the first time the ethnicity of those killed, while tension lingered over the city at the center of the strife.

The official Xinhua news agency said on July 11 that 137 of those killed in the mayhem on July 5 in Urumqi, regional capital of Xinjiang, were Han Chinese, who form the majority of China's 1.3 billion population, including 111 men and 26 women.

Forty-six were Uyghurs, the largely Muslim people of Xinjiang who share cultural bonds with Central Asian peoples. All but one of them were men. Uyghurs make up 46 percent of Xinjiang's 21.3 million people, according to government statistics.

Xinhua said the other person killed in the attacks that erupted last weekend was a member of the Hui ethnic group, which is Muslim but culturally akin to Han Chinese.

The brief report did not say whether the death toll included rioters who may have been killed by security forces.

The reaction on Urumqi streets to the official death toll reflected the deepening ethnic divide in Xinjiang, with Uyghurs expressing disbelief in the number.

"That's the Han people's number. We have our own number," said Akumjia, a Uyghur resident, as he eyed security forces who had cordoned off a street where there was an outburst of protest near a mosque and then arrests on July 10. A security forces helicopter buzzed overhead.

"Maybe many, many more Uyghurs died. The police were scared and lost control."

Close to where he stood, what appeared to be a spray of bullet holes could be seen on the glass front of a Bank of China office. There were no bullets among the shards. The government has not said what kind of forces were used to suppress the bloody rioting. Many Uyghur residents say they heard or saw gunfire.

Chinese authorities had delayed releasing the ethnic breakdown of the dead, possibly out of concern it would further inflame the situation.

Several Han Chinese residents said distrust towards Uyghurs was likely to stay.

"This [new number] at least shows that the victims weren't only Han people," said Zhao Hong, a Han resident who said she saw some of the bloodshed from her home window before hiding.

"Uyghurs also died.... But then they blame Han for being so angry about the killing and looting."

'A Tough Battle To Protect Stability'

Beijing cannot afford to lose its grip on the vast territory that borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, has abundant oil reserves, and is China's largest natural-gas-producing region.

Zhou Yongkang, the top domestic security official in China's ruling Communist Party, said the country now had to "vigorously prosecute this tough battle to protect stability in Xinjiang," the "Xinjiang Daily" reported on July 11.

Human Rights Watch said that the government had deployed some 20,000 troops in Urumqi since the riots of July 5, which broke out after security forces broke up a protest over the deaths of Uyghur workers in far southern China.

"The government has promised a thorough investigation into the violence but has so far presented a skewed and incomplete picture of the unrest," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

"This raises serious doubts about its commitment to investigating all aspects of the violence rather than presenting a predetermined version of the events."

Urumqi is still tense, with thousands of troops and police deployed throughout the city. A brief demonstration broke out on July 10, the main Muslim day of prayer, after some mosques were opened briefly.

On July 11, antiriot troops continued to keep a close watch on Uyghur residents, and loudspeakers on vehicles blasted warnings that they should stay at home and accept the government's line on the unrest.

The Uyghur language is related to Turkish, and some Uyghurs refer to their desert and forest homeland as "East Turkistan."

On July 10, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the killings in Xinjiang a "genocide."

In Washington, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bipartisan resolution condemning the "violent repression" of the Uyghur people by China. It was unclear how soon it would come to a vote in the House.
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