Chinese media has been reporting what appear to be ethnically-motivated riots in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. Xinhua reports that casualty may have reached 140, with more injured.
Western press have also latched onto the story. Here is the latest report from the Wall Street Journal.
SHANGHAI — The official death toll in riots in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region rose sharply Monday, with the government saying that 140 had been killed in what appears to be one of the deadliest episodes of unrest in China in decades.
Police said at least 828 other people were injured in violence that began Sunday in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital. Witnesses said the conflicts pitted security forces against demonstrators, and members of the region’s Turkic-speaking Uighur ethnic group against members of the country’s Han Chinese majority. Many among the predominantly Muslim Uighurs have chafed at Chinese government rule.
The official tally of dead and injured increased Monday as more information came out of Urumqi through the state-run Xinhua news agency, although it appeared that most or all of the violence had ended by the early hours of Monday.
Xinhua quoted Liu Yaohua, a senior police official in Xinjiang, as saying that rioters had burned 261 vehicles, including 190 buses and two police cars, several of which were still ablaze as of Monday morning. Mr. Liu said the death toll of 140 “would still be climbing.”
As evening fell in Urumqi Monday, witnesses said that paramilitary troops of the People’s Armed Police, backed by armored personnel carriers, were patrolling largely calm city streets. Many businesses remained shuttered and gates of the city’s central bazaar, which was the scene of unrest Sunday night, were closed.
Police said they were still searching for dozens of people suspected of fanning the violence. Several hundred people have already been arrested in connection with the riot, police said, and the government said it was bringing “ethnic officials” from nearby areas to help with interrogations.
Uighur activists said hundreds of Uighurs, many of them students, had gathered Sunday to protest racial discrimination and call for government action against the perpetrators of an attack last month on Uighur migrant workers at a toy factory in southern China. In that incident, a group of Han Chinese broke into a factory dormitory housing Uighur workers. State media reported that two people were killed. Uighur groups say the death toll may have been higher.
The protests appear to have spun out of control late Sunday, with clashes between protestors and police as well as ethnic violence around the city. Xinhua’s report Monday said that 57 dead bodies had been “retrieved from Urumqi’s streets and lanes,” while the remaining fatalities were confirmed dead at hospitals.
An official in the nursing department of one of Urumqi’s largest hospitals, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region People’s Hospital, said the hospital received 291 people injured in the unrest. Seventeen of them died, and more than 20 others were in critical condition on Monday night.
The official said that 233 of the injured were Han Chinese, 39 were Uighurs and the rest belonged to other ethnic minority groups. Seven of the injured had gunshot wounds, she said.
Uighurs have long complained about restrictions on their civil liberties and religious practices imposed by a Chinese government fearful of political dissent in strategically important Xinjiang, which covers one-sixth of China’s territory and is also an important oil-and-gas-producing region.
Many Uighurs resent what they see as economic and social discrimination by the majority Han Chinese, who have migrated to Xinjiang in growing numbers. Some Uighurs, seeking independence from China, have waged sporadic and at times violent campaigns against the government.
Pictures said to be of the Sunday’s protests distributed by the Washington-based Uyghur American Association showed young Uighurs marching in Urumqi, in some cases carrying the Chinese flag. Pictures also showed phalanxes of helmeted police in riot gear, with shields and batons.
Demonstrators clashed with the police, witnesses said, and rioters smashed shops and attacked buses. “Most were young Uighurs. They were smashing everything on the street,” said one Han Chinese man who works as a driver.
Another Han Chinese man, who owns a shop in the city’s central bazaar, said he saw Uighurs “with big knives stabbing people” on the street. He said crowds of Hans and Uighurs were fleeing the violence. “They were targeting Han, mostly,” he added. “We need to hide inside for a few more days.”
The government blamed the unrest on a prominent exiled Uighur leader, Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress, an activist group. Sunday’s demonstration was “instigated and directed from abroad,” according to a government statement cited by Xinhua.
Alim Seytoff, vice president of the Uyghur American Association, dismissed the government’s claim, saying, “Every time something happens, they blame Ms. Kadeer.” He added: “It’s really the Chinese government’s heavy-handed policies that create such protests and unrest.”
Unrest in Xinjiang mounted last year, as some Uighurs sought to emulate widespread antigovernment demonstrations in Tibetan areas. There were several violent incidents around the time of last summer’s Beijing Olympics, including an attack on a border-police unit that left 16 dead. Ten militants died after another attack with improvised explosives in a Xinjiang city on the first weekend of the Games.
Originally I was waiting to post a blog entry until more information is available – and when I have something to say. But given wide international attention this seems to be attracting, I figure we should put in an entry for people to update each other on the latest. If there are any readers from Xinjiang – of if you are of Uyghur ethnicity (in or outside of Xinjiang) – we also welcome any insight you may have.