156 die as China protest turns bloody

Posted 2:32 PM by crkota in Labels: ,
URUMQI, China – At least 156 people have died in riots and street battles in China's western Xinjiang province, state media has said.

Some 828 others have been injured in the deadliest ethnic unrest to hit the region in decades and officials said the death toll was expected to rise.

Police sealed off streets in parts of the provincial capital, Urumqi, after discord between ethnic Muslim Uighur people and China's Han majority erupted into violence. Witnesses reported a new, smaller protest in a second city, Kashgar.

The unrest is another troubling sign for Beijing at how rapid economic development has failed to stem - and even has exacerbated - resentment among ethnic minorities, who say they are being marginalized in their homelands as Chinese migrants pour in.

Columns of paramilitary police in green camouflage uniforms, helmets and flak vests marched around Urumqi's main bazaar - a largely Uighur neighbourhood - carrying batons and shields. Mobile phone service and the social networking site Twitter were blocked, and internet links were also cut or slowed down.

Rioters on Sunday overturned barricades, attacked vehicles and houses, and clashed violently with police in Urumqi, according to media and witness accounts. State television aired footage showing protesters attacking and kicking people on the ground. Other people, who appeared to be Han Chinese, sat dazed with blood pouring down their faces.

In a one-sentence reported released early on Tuesday, the official Xinhua News Agency said 156 people had died. There was little immediate explanation for the high death toll and officials did not say how many of the victims were Han or Uighurs. Xinhua cited Xinjiang's police chief Liu Yaohua as saying that the death toll was expected to rise.

The government accused a Uighur businesswoman living in the US of inciting the riots through phone calls and "propaganda" spread on websites.

Witnesses and state media said the violence started only after police arrived to disperse a peaceful protest demanding justice for two Uighurs killed last month during a fight with Han co-workers at a factory in southern China.

Thousands of people took part in Sunday's disturbance, unlike recent sporadic separatist violence carried out by small groups in Xinjiang. The clashes echoed the violent protest that rocked Tibet last year and left many Tibetan communities living under clamped-down security ever since.

Tensions between Uighurs and the majority Han Chinese are never far from the surface in Xinjiang, a sprawling region rich in minerals and oil that borders eight Central Asian nations. Many Uighurs yearn for independence and some militants have waged a sporadic, violent separatist campaign.

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