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Ethnic Unrest Continues In Xinjiang


Ethnic Uyghur women grab at a riot policeman as they protest in Urumqi, Xinjiang province, on July 7.

Ethnic Uyghur women grab at a riot policeman as they protest in Urumqi, Xinjiang province, on July 7.

There are reports of continued violence in China's autonomous Xinjiang region, with police dispersing unruly crowds of the country's predominant Han ethnic group and scattered clashes between Han Chinese and Uyghurs.

Han Chinese demonstrators smashed shops thought to be owned by minority Muslim Uyghurs in the regional capital, Urumqi, two days after ethnic unrest in the city that officials blamed on Uyghurs left more than 150 people dead. Police said more than 1,400 had been arrested.

Meanwhile, dozens of Uyghurs faced off against police to protest the arrest of relatives since the rioting began, and authorities imposed a nighttime curfew in the city to prevent further "chaos."

Security forces have a heavy presence in the area in an apparent effort to prevent tit-for-tat attacks pitting Uyghurs, who represent about half of Xinjiang's 16 million residents, against ethnic Han Chinese, who make up the overwhelming majority of the country's 1.3 billion people.

Chinese officials blamed the July 5 riots on the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and other Uyghur separatists, a charge the WUC has dismissed as a knee-jerk response from Beijing.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on July 7, WUC President Rebiya Kadir rejected Chinese accusations that she or her organization was in any way involved.

"They say that I am to blame for these events, but I am in no way responsible for this," said Kadir, who lives in exile in the United States.

"In fact, it is China's government that caused this. China's government for the past 60 years has suppressed not only Uyghurs but all Turkic nations such as Uzbeks, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz. They put tens of thousands of them into prisons. But now the nation knows what democracy is, and it went out to protest."

Kadir put the put the true number of dead so far, "according to our information," at more than 400. But there was no way to confirm that figure.

She also said the authorities "arrested not 1,400 people, but many more than that."

Kadir warned that public perceptions of Uyghurs as a "violent" minority are fed by the official line and that Han-Uyghur violence could escalate.

Fear Of More Bloodshed

Reports from Urumqi say police fired tear gas to try to restore order on July 7 when hundreds of Han Chinese armed with metal bars, clubs, and machetes marched through Urumqi, smashing Uyghur-run shops.

Earlier in the day, at least 200 Uyghurs, mainly women, protested following news that more than 1,400 people were arrested in connection with the July 5 riots. Reuters quoted a man who had participated in that demonstration as claiming that police "took them all away and took them inside." He said there were young children among the detained protesters.

Urumqi Communist Party Secretary Li Zhi defended the broad police crackdown, saying the authorities "are protecting the safety of the women and the children."

He added, however, that "those who took part in the riots will be dealt with severely, if they were involved in disruption and violence they will be educated."

Official media said police on July 6 dispersed a protest by around 200 Uyghurs in Xinjiang's second-largest city, Kashgar. Checkpoints were reportedly set up at crossroads between the airport and downtown Kashgar.

Internet connections are still largely cut off in Xinjiang, according to reports.

Outside China, officials said Molotov cocktails were thrown on July 6 at a Chinese Consulate in Munich, slightly damaging the premises. Uyghur protesters briefly scuffled with police during a protest outside the Chinese Embassy in Ankara on July 7. The consular section of the Chinese Embassy in The Hague was closed to the public, a day after protesters hurled rocks at the mission.

The Foreign Ministry in neighboring Kazakhstan has "urgently" advised its citizens to refrain from visiting China's Xinjiang region because of the unrest. Speaking in Astana, a Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman said tourist visas were being denied for Kazakh citizens wishing to visit there.

Humanitarian Concerns

The fresh unrest is apparently linked to a June clash between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in the southern Guangdong Province that reportedly left two Uyghurs dead.

Uyghurs outside China say claims of a terrorist threat serve as an excuse for Chinese authorities to crack down on peaceful pro-independence sentiment and expressions of Uyghur identity. They blame police for sparking the initial violence on July 5.

The European Union has called for "restraint on all sides" to bring a peaceful end to the unrest. In a statement from the bloc's Swedish Presidency, the EU said "deplores the loss of life and expresses its sympathy with the families of the victims” and called for "the rights of all those in detention [to be] fully respected."

Rupert Colville, spokesman for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, told a news conference in Geneva that "the high commissioner is alarmed by the large number of casualties during [the July 5] rioting in Urumqi, as well as by continuing reports of high tension and unrest in the region."

He urged "Uyghur and Han civic leaders, and the Chinese authorities at all levels, to exercise great restraint so as not to spark further violence and loss of life" and called for an independent probe into the tragic weekend events.

Human Rights Watch's Asia advocacy director Sophie Richardson repeated calls for an investigation. She also stressed that "our concerns are once again that we're going to see absolutely no attention paid to due process, arbitrary arrest, possible abuse and torture of detainees. These are very real concerns in China."

written by Andy Heil and RFE/RL correspondent Antoine Blua from RFE/RL and agency reports
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