August 24, 2009 / 1:56 AM / 11 years ago

China trials over Xinjiang riot "likely this week"

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is likely to begin trials this week over deadly riots in the restive far-west region of Xinjiang last month, with hundreds facing murder, arson and other charges, the official China Daily said on Monday.

Armed Chinese paramilitary policemen in riot gear march out of their barracks before the start of Friday's Muslim prayers near the Dong Kuruk Bridge mosque in the city of Urumqi in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region July 17, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray

The trials could again raise tensions in Xinjiang, where many Muslim Uighurs resent the growing presence of Han Chinese and government controls on religious and cultural life.

More than 200 people have been formally arrested in connection with ethnic rioting on July 5 and “trials are expected to start this week,” the China Daily reported, citing an unnamed prosecutor in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang where the violence erupted.

The Urumqi court did not respond to a phone call from Reuters.

Earlier this month, authorities said 83 people had been formally arrested for the rioting, which left at least 197 people dead after Muslim Uighurs attacked mostly Han Chinese.

Han Chinese in Urumqi launched counter-protests and revenge attacks two days after the bloodshed.

“A drastic increase in security is expected in the whole city (of Urumqi) in response to an expected mass gathering of Han and Uygur (Uighur) people awaiting the court verdicts,” the report said, citing an unnamed police source.

The suspects face charges including murder, arson, robbery, vandalism and “organizing crowds to disrupt public order,” said the report. It did not specify how many may be tried this week.

The government could also use the trials to press its claim that exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer instigated the rioting, a claim that she has repeatedly denied.

The Urumqi riot marked Xinjiang’s worst ethnic turmoil in decades and followed Uighur protests in Urumqi over the killings of two Uighurs in ethnic strife at a factory in southern China.

Many Uighurs believed dozens or even hundreds of Uighurs were killed in that factory unrest.

Uighur independence advocates say that China, which is preparing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1, is deliberately drawing Han Chinese into the region to stifle Uighur influence.

Uighurs, once a sizeable majority in Xinjiang, now make up 46 percent of its 21.3 million people, according to government statistics.

Beijing says the region is historically part of China and it will not make any concessions on control over Xinjiang, which has oil reserves and is the country’s biggest natural gas-producing region.

Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills

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