URUMQI, China – Police have arrested 1,434 suspects in connection with the worst ethnic violence in decades in China’s western Xinjiang region, which killed at least 156 people, state media reported today.
The arrests come amid a security clampdown on the region, with hundreds of paramilitary police with shields, rifles and clubs taking control of the streets of the capital, Urumqi, where the riots took place on Sunday.
The violence does not bode well for China’s efforts to mollify long-simmering ethnic tensions between the minority Uighur people and the ethnic Han Chinese in Xinjiang – a region three times the size of Texas that shares borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries.
Mobile phone service and social networking sites have been blocked, and Internet links were cut or slowed.
A nonviolent protest by 200 people was broken up in a second city, Kashgar, and the official Xinhua News Agency said police had evidence that demonstrators were trying to organize more unrest in Kashgar, Yili and Aksu.
The riots in Urumqi began Sunday after 1,000 to 3,000 protesters gathered at the People’s Square and protested the June 25 deaths of Uighur factory workers killed in a riot in southern China. Xinhua said two died; other sources put the figure higher.
State TV reports on the violence showed Uighurs attacking Han Chinese bystanders but said nothing about deaths or injuries resulting from police action. The government blamed the bloodshed on exile groups and others it cast as agitators – specifically Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur leader who is living in exile in the Washington, D.C., area – saying they are separatists plotting against Chinese rule. China made similar claims last year against the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
“Their accusations are completely false,” Kadeer said Monday through an interpreter. “I did not organize the protests or call on the Uighurs to demonstrate.”
Many Uighurs haven’t been wooed by rapid economic development. Some want independence, while others feel they’re being marginalized in their homeland. The Han – China’s ethnic majority – have been flooding into Xinjiang as the region becomes more developed.
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