China maintains grip on Urumqi

July 9, 2009 12:00 am

, URUMQI, China, Jul 9 – Riot police and soldiers kept a strong presence in China’s Urumqi city after days of unrest as taxis returned to the streets and some businesses re-opened in tentative signs of normality.

But the capital of China’s restive Xinjiang region remained divided, with security forces separating Han Chinese districts from Muslim Uighur areas following unrest that began on Sunday and left at least 156 people dead.

Urumqi’s mayor said late Wednesday the city was back under control, after thousands of Han Chinese roamed the streets vowing vengeance and to defend themselves in response to initial violence authorities blamed on Uighurs.

There were no signs of the vigilantes, many of whom had been carrying poles, shovels and other makeshift weapons, and public buses as well as taxis were again plying the main thoroughfares in the Han Chinese parts of town.

But even though more shops had also re-opened after a three-day government-mandated business closure, residents remained extremely tense and doubtful life would return to normal anytime soon.

"How can it return to normal with so many soldiers," said a Han woman surnamed Li in central Urumqi. "I’ve counted 42 military trucks so far and more trucks just came by."

And the big bazaar in the main Uighur district remained shut, with Uighurs saying the closure was another example of the different rules they have to live by compared with the Han Chinese.

"They said we could re-open after three days. But today is the fourth day and they are not letting us open," said a clothing shop owner.

"Over in the Chinese part of town, the buses are running there, the shops are open, but here the buses are not running and the shops are closed. This is equal treatment?"

Xinjiang’s eight million Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking people who have long complained about discrimination and repression under Chinese rule — accusations the government denies.

Those feelings of repression led to Sunday’s protests, according to exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, who the government blames for orchestrating Sunday’s unrest.

Kadeer denies instigating the protests and also said Wednesday the death toll from the unrest was far higher than the figure of 156 given by Chinese authorities.

The vice-president of the Uighur World Congress, Asgar Can, put the death toll from the unrest at between 600 and 800, saying the estimate was based on eyewitness accounts of the violence.

Chinese President Hu Jintao abandoned a Group of Eight summit in Italy and returned to China on Wednesday to deal with the crisis, in what observers said was an unprecedented move.

However by Thursday neither he, nor any other senior leader from the Chinese government in Beijing, had commented publicly on the crisis.

The situtation in Xinjiang continued to raise concern internationally, particularly in Muslim countries.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on China Wednesday to secure a quick end to the "atrocity" in Xinjiang and said his nation would bring the matter to the agenda of the UN Security Council.

"We expect a swift end to the events amounting to atrocity, the prevalence of common sense… and the immediate implementation of the necessary measures in line with universal human rights," Erdogan said.

Turkey, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, will ask the body to discuss ways of ending the violence, he added. China is one of the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the council.

"This is a humanitarian task that falls on our shoulders," the prime minister said.


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