Heavy security in China's Xinjiang, stability urged

URUMQI, China (Reuters) - An uneasy calm returned on Sunday to China’s riot-hit Urumqi where 184 people died in ethnic violence a week ago, though the official tally of dead could rise, a regional official indicated.

Shops were open and heavy traffic returned to the streets of Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region, where Uighurs, a largely Muslim people, rioted and attacked Han Chinese, who form the majority of China’s 1.3 billion population.

Security forces massed in Uighur neighborhoods on Sunday as officials set stability as their top priority.

According to the official count, 137 of those killed were Han Chinese and 46 were Uighurs who share cultural bonds with Central Asian peoples.

The death toll could rise further. Xinjiang’s governor on Sunday raised the number of injured to 1,680, of which 74 were critically injured, from the previous figure of about 1,000.

“It feels like it’s getting back to normal now but I feel there’s going to be more problems,” a Han Chinese vendor named Xia Lihai told Reuters. He said there was a risk of more Uighur protests once arrests, trials and sentencing are announced.

A fire at an oil refinery operated by PetroChina on the outskirts of the city was quickly extinguished on Sunday morning, but police and refinery officials ruled out a deliberate attack.

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On Saturday, Zhou Yongkang, the nation’s top leader in charge of security affairs, toured the southern Xinjiang cities of Kashgar and Hotan, calling for a “steel wall” of security to “win the tough war of maintaining Xinjiang’s stability.”

Authorities must “nip all hidden dangers in the bud,” he said, and blamed the riot on “hostile forces” at home and abroad.

Local television aired constant appeals for ethnic harmony, while Internet access was still blocked throughout Xinjiang and telephone services were spotty.


Uighurs in the local government feel under pressure from fellow Uighurs, following a week of sweeping detentions of Uighur men, said Alim, a Uighur working in the city government.

Uighurs say many of the men swept up were innocent and had nothing to do with the rioting.

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“I am feeling under a lot of pressure because since July 5 they have arrested thousands. The families want them released early, especially because in Uighur families it’s the men who earn a living,” Alim said.

City officials in Urumqi increasingly put the blame for the riots on migrants from the much poorer south of Xinjiang, where Uighurs are still the majority of the population.

“A large part of the criminals in the July 5 rioting were from cities 1,500 km away, like Kashgar and Hotan, which shows it was organized and planned in advance,” China News Service said on Sunday, quoting the city party secretary, Li Zhi.

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Uighurs make up 46 percent of Xinjiang’s 21 million people, but accounted for the vast majority just a few decades ago.

Many resent the Han Chinese influx and say these newcomers get too many of the jobs and wealth brought by development in the north, where military-run farms and oil and gas extraction dominate the economy.

Foreign reporters from several news organizations were escorted out of Kashgar, an oasis city in the south, “for safety reasons” on Friday, although city officials did not explain what the danger was.

Last Sunday’s riots erupted after police moved in to quell a Uighur demonstration against an attack on Uighur workers at a factory in southern China, in which two died. Many of those workers hailed from Kashgar.

At least one of the dead last Sunday was a paramilitary policemen, while ten other police were seriously injured, the Xinhua news agency said this weekend.

Writing by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Sugita Katyal and Richard Balmforth