Three Han Chinese (the nation's ethnic majority) were reportedly killed in riots taking place that have swept across the capital of Xinjiang region in western China, the site of recent stand-offs between Muslim Uighurs and security forces.
AFP - Three people were killed and more than 20 others injured as rioters swept through the capital of China's mainly Muslim Xinjiang region on Sunday, state media reported.
The dead were from China's majority Han Chinese ethnic group, according to the official Xinhua news agency, with activist groups and a witness saying the violence in Urumqi city pitted thousands of Muslim Uighurs against police.
The unrest is the latest in more than a year of violence to hit Xinjiang, home to about eight million Uighurs -- many of whom say they have suffered political and religious persecution under Han Chinese rule for decades.
Citing local government officials, Xinhua said the rioters "illegally gathered in several downtown places and engaged in beating, smashing, looting and burning".
It said many motor vehicles were burnt in the unrest on Sunday afternoon.
The regional government said the unrest was masterminded by the World Uighur Congress led by Rebiya Kadeer, who lives in exile in the United States, Xinhua reported early Monday.
The government did not say how many people were involved or how many had been arrested, it said.
But the eye-witness, a Han Chinese bar owner in the city centre where the riots took place, who refused to be named, told AFP there were around 3,000 Uighur protesters and some were armed with wooden batons and knives.
She said the rioters broke cars, smashed windows and tried to set some buses on fire.
"All shop owners in the street were very scared," she told AFP over the phone, adding order had now been restored.
A local policewoman contacted by AFP confirmed an incident had happened, but would not give any details.
An exiled Uighur leader disputed the authorities' version of events and said police had fired indiscriminately on students holding a peaceful protest over an ethnically charged brawl late last month at a factory in southern China that left two Uighurs dead.
"These young Uighurs peacefully took to the streets but more than 1,000 armed Chinese police came out," Alim Seytoff, head of the Uighur American Association, told AFP in Washington.
"What we were told is that they began to shoot indiscriminately," said Seytoff, who said he was in contact with Urumqi residents.
"More than three were killed, but we don't know how many. Hundreds of others were injured."
Ilham Mahmut, head of the Japan Uighur Association, told AFP in Tokyo he had heard via Internet communications from China that the confrontation involved about 3,000 Uighurs, and that at least 300 had been arrested.
He said 1,000 police used electric cattle prods and fired gunshots into the air to try to quell the unrest.
Photos purporting to depict the protest in Urumqi, emailed to AFP by Mahmut but that could not be independently verified, showed police in riot gear running towards an unidentified area as well as a police armoured car.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uighur Congress, also released photos purportedly showing hundreds of people protesting and armed police running through the streets.
China tightly controls Xinjiang, a region of vast deserts and towering mountains that borders central Asia, having long said it faces a deadly threat from Muslim separatists.
But Uighur exile groups accuse Beijing of inflating the threat as an excuse to suppress their culture and ethnic identity.
Chinese police announced last month they had smashed seven terror cells this year in the region.
In April, two Uighur men were executed in Xinjiang's Kashgar city for what China called a "terrorist" attack last August there aimed at sabotaging the Beijing Olympics, and which state media reported then left 17 policemen dead.
That incident was the most serious in a wave of unrest in Xinjiang ahead of and during the Olympics.
Potentially fuelling tensions, this year also marks 60 years since Chinese troops entered Xinjiang and "peacefully liberated" the region. Advocates of independence for the area have maintained the move was an invasion.
While the Chinese government is looking to celebrate the anniversary, it has warned that separatists were planning more attacks.
"The (security) situation will be more severe, the task more arduous and the struggle more fierce in the region this year," Nur Bekri, the chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, said in March.
Date created : 2009-07-05