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Beijing Blames Uyghurs As Xinjiang Violence Kills 140


An image released by the U.S.-based Uyghur American Association of the scene in Urumqi on July 5.
BEIJING (Reuters) -- Internet users have been unable to go online in Urumqi, the northwestern Chinese city hit by ethnic violence that has killed at least 140 people, residents said.

More than 800 people were reported injured.

The government has blamed exiled Muslim separatists for the area's worst case of ethnic unrest in years.

Hundreds of rioters have been arrested, the official Xinhua news agency reported, after rock-throwing Uyghurs took to the streets of the regional capital on July 5, some burning and smashing vehicles and confronting ranks of antiriot police.

Here's youtube video of official China Central Television (CCTV) coverage of the unrest.

Urumqi residents were unable to access the Internet on July 6, several said.

"The city is basically under martial law," Yang Jin, a dried-fruit merchant, said by telephone.

Ongoing Roundup

The unrest underscores the volatile ethnic tensions that have accompanied China's growing economic and political stake in its western frontiers.

A senior official swiftly delivered the government claim that the unrest was the work of extremist forces abroad, signaling a security crackdown in the strategic region near Pakistan and Central Asia.

Li Zhi, the Communist Party boss of Urumqi, told a news conference that the death toll from the rioting had risen to 140, the semiofficial China News Agency said. Xinhua said 816 people were injured and hospitalized.

"Police have tightened security in downtown Urumqi streets and at key institutions such as power and natural-gas companies and TV stations to prevent large-scale riots," Xinhua quoted Xinjiang police chief Liu Yaohua as saying.

Police rounded up "several hundred" who participated in the violence, including more than 10 key players who fanned unrest, Xinhua said, and are searching for 90 others.

The riot in Urumqi, a city of 2.3 million residents 3,270 kilometers west of Beijing, followed a protest against government handling of a June clash between Han Chinese and Uyghur factory workers in southern China, where two Uyghurs died in Shaoguan.

News agencies reported that up to 2,000 riot police patrolled Urumqi on July 6, while paramilitary police armed with semiautomatic rifles stood watch at major intersections.

Dozens of Uyghurs reportedly were demonstrating in the center of Xinjiang's second city, Kashgar, but no clashes were reported. Residents said extra police were deployed on the streets of Kashgar and of another city, Aksu.

'Extremists Abroad' Blamed

The "China Daily" put the number of protesters at 300 to 500, while the exiled Uyghur (also Uighur) American Association had it as high as 3,000.

"After the [Shaoguan] incident, the three forces abroad strived to beat this up and seized it as an opportunity to attack us, inciting street protests," Xinjiang Governor Nuer Baikeli, a Uyghur, said in a speech shown on Xinjiang television.

The "three forces" refer to groups the government says engage in separatism, militant action, and religious extremism.

Here's youtube video of China Central Television's English-language news channel citing officials who blame Uyghurs plotting abroad for the violence.

An unnamed Chinese official said the "unrest was masterminded by the World Uyghur Congress led by Rebiya Kadir," according to Xinhua. "This was a crime of violence that was pre-meditated and organized," said the report.

Rebiya Kadir is a Uyghur businesswoman now in exile in the United States after years in jail, and accused of separatist activities. She did not answer calls for comment.

Internet Cut-Off

"Since yesterday evening I haven't been able to get online," store owner Han Zhenyu told Reuters by telephone.

"No Internet here; friends said they cannot log on, either," said a mobile phone seller who gave only his surname, Zhang.

News of the apparent outage was also spread by messages on social networking services like Twitter and its Chinese competitors.

"The incident has largely subsided, but armored cars were still in town this morning. Internet in Urumqi is still down, someone said it would last for 48 hours," one user, who said he was in Urumqi, wrote on domestic site

China has previously shut down communications in parts of Tibet where ethnic unrest had erupted or was feared.

compiled from Reuters reports