Uighurs Dispute China's Breakdown of Riot Dead

By: AP
By: AP
China released a breakdown Saturday of the death toll from communal rioting, saying most of the 184 killed were from the Han Chinese majority - an announcement that only fueled suspicion among Muslim Uighurs that many more of their people died.

President of the Uighur American Association Rebiya Kadeer speaks at a Uighur protest at Dupont Circle in Washington on Tuesday, July 7, 2009. The exiled Uighur leader accused by China of inciting ethnic violence says the Chinese government is responsible for the rising tensions. Chinese authorities have accused Kadeer of inciting violence between Muslim Uighurs and ethnic Han Chinese, in which at least 156 people have been killed. The riots broke out Sunday in China's Xinjiang region. (AP Photo/Stephen J. Boitano)

URUMQI, China (AP) -- China released a breakdown Saturday of the death toll from communal rioting, saying most of the 184 killed were from the Han Chinese majority - an announcement that only fueled suspicion among Muslim Uighurs that many more of their people died.

Identifying the ethnic background of the dead for the first time since last Sunday's unrest in western Xinjiang, the government's Xinhua News Agency cited provincial officials as saying 137 victims were Han while 46 were Uighurs and one was a Hui, another Muslim group.

Uighurs on the streets of the Xinjiang capital, Urumqi, and from exile activist groups disputed the new figures, citing persistent rumors that security forces fired on Uighurs during Sunday's protest and in following days.

"I've heard that more than 100 Uighurs have died, but nobody wants to talk about it in public," said one Uighur man who did not want to give his name because the city remains tense and security forces are everywhere.

Dispelling such suspicions has become another challenge for the government as it tries to calm the troubled region and win over critics in the international community. Turkey - whose people share an ethnic and cultural bond with the Uighurs - has been particularly critical with the prime minister likening the situation to genocide.

Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) have repeatedly told foreign journalists in Urumqi that police shot at crowds. The accounts have been difficult to verify, except in isolated cases, making it unlikely that Uighur deaths numbered 500 or more as some exile activists have claimed. Security forces have shown discipline in dealing with agitated and angry crowds of Uighurs and Han in the days following the riot.

Nearly a week after last Sunday's disturbance, officials have yet to make public key details about the riots and what happened next. How much force police used to re-impose order is unclear. Xinhua's brief report, which raised the death toll by nearly 30, did not say whether all were killed Sunday or afterward when vigilante mobs ran through the city with bricks, clubs and cleavers.

China's communist leadership has ordered forces across Xinjiang to mobilize to put down any unrest, adding a note of official worry that violence might spread elsewhere. The state-run China News Service said that authorities last Monday arrested an unspecified number of people plotting to instigate a riot in Yining, a city near Xinjiang's border with Kazakstan.

In a separate report, the news agency said that some of the rioters in Urumqi (pronounced uh-ROOM-chee) came from Kashgar, Hotan and other cities in the region, which abuts Pakistan, Afghanistan and other parts of Central Asia.

In Urumqi, some Chinese held funeral rites for their dead Saturday. At a makeshift funeral parlor along an alley, friends paid respects at an altar with photos of the dead: a couple and her parents, all beaten to death in the riot.

Security forces patrolled the city in thick numbers. Paramilitary police carrying automatic weapons and riot shields blocked some roads leading to one largely Uighur district. White armored personnel carriers and open-bed trucks packed with standing troops rumbled along main avenues.

In one Uighur neighborhood, a police van blared public announcements in the Uighur language urging residents to oppose activist Rebiya Kadeer, a 62-year-old Uighur businesswoman who lives in exile in the U.S., whom China says instigated the riots without providing evidence. She has denied it.

Kadeer, president of the pro-independence World Uyghur Congress, and other overseas activists say that many more Uighurs have accused authorities of downplaying the toll to cover up killings by Chinese security forces. "We believe the actual number of people dead, wounded and arrested is much higher," she said in an interview Friday in Washington.

Kadeer has said at least 500 people were killed while other overseas groups have put the toll even higher, citing accounts from Uighurs in China.

China has said its security forces exercised restraint in restoring stability but has not provided details nor explained why so many people died.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey - where daily protests have voiced support for the Uighurs - urged Beijing to prevent attacks on the minority group.

"These incidents in China are as if they are genocide," said Erdogan. "We ask the Chinese government not to remain a spectator to these incidents. There is clearly a savagery here."

The violence last Sunday followed a protest against the June 26 deaths of Uighur factory workers in a brawl in southern China. The crowd then scattered throughout Urumqi, attacking Han Chinese, burning cars and smashing windows.

Many Uighurs who are still free live in fear of being arrested for any act of dissent.

Thousands of Chinese troops have flooded into Urumqi to separate the feuding ethnic groups, and a senior Communist Party official vowed to execute those guilty of murder in the rioting.

A report in the Urumqi Evening News on Friday said police caught 190 suspects in four raids the day before.

The government believes the Uighurs should be grateful for Xinjiang's rapid economic development, which has brought new schools, highways, airports, railways, natural gas fields and oil wells in the sprawling, rugged Central Asian region, three times the size of Texas.

But many of the Turkic-speaking Uighurs, with a population of 9 million in Xinjiang, accuse the dominant Han ethnic group of discriminating against them and saving all the best jobs for themselves. Many also say the Communist Party is repressive and tries to snuff out their Islamic faith, language and culture.


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