Urumqi tense after police shooting

July 14, 2009 12:00 am

, URUMQI, Jul 14 – A mosque was closed and many businesses were shuttered near where police shot dead two Muslim Uighurs, as ethnic tensions simmered in China’s restive Urumqi city.

Large groups of police armed with semi-automatic weapons and batons were out in force close to the scene of Monday’s violence, where Chinese authorities said police shot and killed two Uighur "lawbreakers" and injured another.

The shootings showed the capital of the northwest Xinjiang region remained a powder keg more than a week after ethnic unrest on July 5 left at least 184 people dead, despite an ongoing security clampdown.

An Algerian-based Al-Qaeda affiliate is meanwhile calling for reprisals against Chinese workers in northern Africa, the South China Morning Post said Tuesday, citing an intelligence report.

The call came from Algerian-based Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Post said, quoting the report by London-based risk analysis firm Stirling Assynt.

It is the first time Osama bin Laden’s network has directly threatened China or its interests, the Stirling report noted, and said that a thirst for vengeance was spreading among the global jihadist community.

Xinjiang is a huge mountainous region bordering eight countries, many of them with Islamic governments. Its Muslim Uighur community has long chafed at Chinese rule.

On Tuesday, many shops in the Uighur district close to the site of the shootings remained closed and a major mosque was shut with security guards outside.

One businessman said he was not opening his clothing stall.

"It is too tense right here. How can I make money with no customers around?" the man from the ethnic Hui minority told AFP.

Despite the fresh violence, some shopkeepers did open their doors.

"We are getting used to (the tension) already," said one Uighur woman who was arranging bagels outside her food store.

The latest shooting was the first time the government said security forces had killed anyone since the unrest broke out, despite claims by exiled Uighurs that many people had died in the clampdown.

"Police shot and killed two suspected lawbreakers and injured one suspected lawbreaker using legal means," said a government statement released in Urumqi.

The statement said the three Uighurs were trying to attack another person from their minority group on Monday afternoon.

The government’s statement conflicted with accounts by two Uighurs who said they witnessed the incident from 50 metres (yards) away and that three Uighur men had been trying to attack security forces.

"They hacked at the soldiers with big knives and then they were shot," one of the witnesses told AFP.

The initial unrest of July 5 saw Uighurs attack Han Chinese, according to the government and witnesses interviewed by AFP, in the worst ethnic violence to hit the country in decades.

Thousands of Han Chinese retaliated in the following days, arming themselves with makeshift weapons and marching through parts of Urumqi vowing vengeance against the Uighurs.

Xinjiang is home to eight million Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking people who have long complained about what they say is repression and discrimination under Chinese rule.

Uighurs also complain of an influx of Han, China’s dominant ethnic group, a migration they say is extinguishing their culture.

Before Monday’s shootings, security forces had worked hard to regain control of the city, and many shops outside the Uighur district had reopened and traffic had returned to the streets.

An AFP reporter in the city said car and pedestrian traffic was flowing on Tuesday morning in most of Urumqi, while security only appeared particularly tight in the Uighur area.


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