BEIJING (Reuters) - Rioting erupted in China’s restive far west Xinjiang region on Sunday, when locals burned vehicles and blocked traffic in the regional capital Urumqi, the state news agency reported.
The rioters were “attacking passers-by and setting fire to vehicles”, the brief Xinhua news agency report said. “They also turned over (a) traffic guardrail and interrupted traffic on some roads in the city,” it added.
The report did not specify the ethnicity of those involved in the unrest, and calls to the Xinjiang region spokesperson’s officer were not answered.
But a visitor in Urumqi said they were Uighurs, a largely Muslim group with a language and culture close to the Turkic peoples of Central Asia. Many Uighurs resent the growing Han Chinese presence in their homeland and the cultural and religious controls imposed by the ruling Communist Party.
“It started as a few hundred, and then there were easily over a thousand involved,” said the visitor, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He said the rioters overturned traffic rails and smashed buses until thousands of police and anti-riot troops swept through the city, using tear-gas and high-pressure water hoses to disperse crowds.
“Now the whole city is on lock-down,” he said.
The Chinese video website Youku (www.youku.com) showed footage titled “Urumqi riot” that showed smoke rising from an expressway as a firetruck stopped at the scene.
The Xinhua report did not say how many people were involved in the unrest or what their grievances were.
Almost half of Xinjiang’s 20 million people are Uighurs. Many of them resent controls imposed by Beijing and an inflow of Han Chinese migrants. The population of Urumqi is largely Han Chinese.
Many Uighurs complain they are marginalised economically and politically in their own land, which has rich mineral and natural gas reserves.
Xinjiang has been under increasingly tight security in recent years, especially in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, when the region was hit by several deadly attacks that authorities said were the work of militants.
But human rights groups and Uighur independence activists say Beijing grossly exaggerates the threat from militants to justify harsh controls restricting peaceful political demands.
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