Curfew imposed on riot area

19:50, Jul 20 2009
Crowds in Xinjiang
XINJIANG CURFEW: A woman pushes at Chinese soldiers wearing riot gear as a crowd of angry locals confront security forces on a street in the city of Urumqi in Xinjiang.

China will slap a curfew over the capital of Xinjiang after trying to break up protests with tear gas, two days after bloody ethnic clashes killed 156 and wounded more than 1000.

The curfew will run from 9pm on Tuesday to 8am on Wednesday, Xinhua news agency quoted the region's Communist Party boss as saying in a televised speech.

Hundreds of protesters from China's predominant Han ethnic group, many clutching meat cleavers, metal pipes and wooden clubs, smashed shops owned by Uighurs, a Turkic largely Islamic people who share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia.

Some Han Chinese protesters shouted "attack Uighurs" as both sides hurled rocks at each other. Many were injured but there were no immediate reports of deaths. A fresh outburst of rock-throwing erupted in the early evening.

Police used tear gas to try to disperse the crowd, but for a while it only emboldened the demonstrators, caught between two sets of anti-riot police 600 metres apart.

Some used water to wash the gas out of their eyes as they pressed towards police at the mainly Uighur end of the street.

"They attacked us. Now it's our turn to attack them," a man in the crowd told Reuters. He refused to give his name.

Along with Tibet, Xinjiang is one of the most politically sensitive regions in China and in both places the government has sought to maintain its grip by controlling religious and cultural life while promising economic growth and prosperity.

The violence, which has showed signs of spreading in the volatile region, appeared to have little impact on China's financial markets. Stocks slipped on technical factors while the yuan was trading higher against the dollar.

Xinjiang has long been a hotbed of ethnic tensions, fostered by a yawning economic gap between Uighurs and Han Chinese, government controls on religion and culture and an influx of Han Chinese migrants who now are the majority in most key cities.

Beijing has poured cash into exploiting Xinjiang's rich oil and gas deposits and consolidating its hold on a strategically vital frontierland that borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, but Uighurs say migrant Han are the main beneficiaries.


Part of the crowd briefly surged forward singing the Chinese national anthem before police drove them back with tear gas.

Anti-riot police armed with clubs and shields pushed protesters away from a Uighur neighbourhood but hundreds managed to break through police lines.

There was a standoff between police and a crowd of mainly Han Chinese and some Hui Muslims. They chanted slogans including "Unity is Strength" and "Defend Stability, Protect the People".

Many of the Uighur protesters were women, wailing and waving the identity cards of husbands, brothers or sons they say were arbitrarily seized in a sweeping reaction to Sunday's rioting in the city of Urumqi.

"My husband was taken away yesterday by police. They didn't say why. They just took him away," a woman who identified herself as Maliya told Reuters.

The crowd began to march towards the Xinjiang regional government, saying the government was too weak. "Now it's time to go to the government," one protester surnamed Zhang said.

Abdul Ali, a Uighur man in his 20s who had taken off his shirt, held up his clenched fist. "They've been arresting us for no reason, and it's time for us to fight back," he said.

Ali said three of his brothers and a sister were among 1,434 suspects taken into custody. Of the 156 killed, 27 were women.

Human rights groups have warned that a harsh crackdown on Uighurs in the wake of Sunday's violence could merely exacerbate the grievances that fuelled ethnic tensions.

Urumqi Communist Party boss Li Zhi defended the crackdown.

"It should be said that they were all violent elements who wielded clubs and smashed, looted, burned and even murdered at the scene," he told a news conference.


Some Xinjiang newspapers carried graphic pictures of the violence, including corpses, at least one of which showed a woman whose throat had been slashed.

Despite heightened security, some unrest appeared to be spreading in the volatile region, where long-standing ethnic tensions periodically erupt into bloodshed.

Police dispersed around 200 people at the Id Kah mosque in Kashgar in southern Xinjiang on Monday evening, Xinhua said.

The report did not say if police used force but said checkpoints had been set up at crossroads between Kashgar airport and downtown.

Almost half of Xinjiang's 20 million people are Uighurs, while the population of Urumqi, which lies around 3,300km west of Beijing, is mostly Han.

Chinese officials have already blamed the unrest on separatist groups abroad which it says want to create an independent homeland for Uighurs.

The Chinese embassy in the Netherlands was attacked by exiled pro-Uighur activists who smashed windows, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday. China condemned the attack.

- Reuters