China eases security as Urumqi gradually reopens after riots

The July 5 riots and subsequent unrest in Urumqi left 184 people dead and 1,680 wounded.

china Uighur urumqi riots 248 88 ap (photo credit: )
china Uighur urumqi riots 248 88 ap
(photo credit: )
Fewer security personnel were visible on the streets of riot-hit Urumqi on Monday as more roads reopened and shops unlocked their doors. State media warned that the death toll from the violence that rocked the city in western China could climb. The July 5 riots and subsequent unrest in Urumqi left 184 people dead and 1,680 wounded. Of the more than 900 people still in hospital, 74 have life-threatening wounds, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Last week, riot police and paramilitary forces came out in force to block off the city center and restore order after China's worst ethnic violence in decades. On Monday, the security vehicles previously deployed at People's Square were gone but helmeted riot police remained in the area. Small groups of paramilitary police with riot shields stood guard on street corners and helicopters flew over the city, but most roads leading to the Grand Bazaar market were reopened. In the Uighur districts, more shops lifted their shutters, vendors pushed carts full of peaches and watermelon sellers sliced up their wares. Restaurant staff set up tables under trees next to the road. Radio talk show hosts meanwhile urged taxi drivers to be polite to foreign and domestic visitors. The violence began when Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) who were protesting the deaths of Uighur factory workers in a brawl in southern China clashed with police in Urumqi. Crowds scattered throughout the city, attacking ethnic Han Chinese and burning cars. Government officials have yet to make public key details about what happened next, including how much force police used to restore order. In the following days, vigilante mobs of Han Chinese ran through the city with bricks, clubs and cleavers seeking revenge. Of the dead, the government has said 137 Han Chinese and 46 Uighurs died, with one minority Hui Muslim also killed. Uighurs say they believe many more from their ethnic group died in the government crackdown. Since last week, tens of thousands of Chinese troops have poured into Urumqi (pronounced uh-ROOM-chee) and other parts of Xinjiang to impose order. A senior Communist Party official vowed to execute those guilty of murder in the rioting. Xinhua said police were manning checkpoints and searching buses for any suspects involved in the violence. The English-language Global Times newspaper, which is connected to the Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper, ran a front-page article Monday criticizing Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's comments likening the situation in Xinjiang to genocide. Thousands of Turks protested in Istanbul on Sunday to denounce ethnic violence in Xinjiang and call on their government to intervene to protect Muslim Uighurs there. Turks share ethnic and cultural bonds with the Turkic-speaking Uighurs and the government has expressed concern about the Chinese authorities' treatment of Uighurs following the riots. The Uighurs, who number 9 million in Xinjiang, have complained about an influx of Han Chinese and government restrictions on their Muslim religion. They accuse the Han of discrimination and the Communist Party of trying to erase their language and culture. Han Chinese, many of whom were encouraged to emigrate here by the government, believe the Uighurs should be grateful for Xinjiang's rapid economic development, which has brought new schools, highways, airports, railways, natural gas fields and oil wells to the sprawling, rugged region. Uighurs favor independence or greater autonomy for Xinjiang province, which takes up one-sixth of China's land mass and borders eight Central Asian countries. The Han - China's ethnic majority - have lately been flooding into Xinjiang as the region becomes more developed.