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China Announces More Death Sentences For Xinjiang Riot

Two Uyghur women pass Chinese paramilitary policemen standing guard outside the Grand Bazaar in the Uyghur district of Urumqi in China's Xinjiang region in July.
BEIJING (Reuters) -- A Chinese court has handed out a further three death sentences to people convicted of violent crimes during ethnic rioting in far western Xinjiang in July in which almost 200 people died.

The official Xinhua news agency reported that a court in Urumqi, Xinjiang's regional capital, also sentenced three defendants to suspended death sentences, which could be commuted to life sentences in two years.

The report did not specify the ethnic identity of the defendants, but their names left little doubt they were Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group that calls Xinjiang its homeland.

Six people have already been sentenced to death for their involvement in the ethnic unrest between Uyghurs and Han Chinese.

Last month, China announced the first charges to be laid in connection with the unrest, with 21 people charged with murder, arson, robbery, and damaging property during ethnic riots that erupted in Urumqi on July 5.

In Xinjiang's worst ethnic violence in decades, Uyghurs attacked majority Han Chinese in Urumqi, after taking to the streets to protest against attacks on Uyghur workers at a factory in southern China in June that left two Uyghurs dead.

Han Chinese in Urumqi sought revenge two days later.

The violence left 197 people, mostly Han Chinese, dead and wounded more than 1,600, according to official figures.

Energy-rich Xinjiang, strategically located in Central Asia, has been struck in recent years by bombings, attacks, and riots blamed by Beijing on Uyghur separatists demanding an independent "East Turkistan."

Many Uyghurs resent government restrictions on their religion and culture and a massive influx of Han Chinese settlers, which has in some areas reduced them to a minority in their own land.

Rights groups and Uyghur activists also say Beijing grossly exaggerates the threat from militants to justify harsh controls.