Death toll from China's ethnic riots reaches 184

Gov't gives ethnic breakdown of victims - 137 of Han ethnic group, 46 Turkic Uighurs, 1 Hui Muslim; Turkey president compares riots to genocide.

china Uighur urumqi riots 248 88 ap (photo credit: )
china Uighur urumqi riots 248 88 ap
(photo credit: )
Chinese state media on Saturday reported that authorities raised the death toll from riots in the Xinjiang region to 184, giving the first ethnic breakdown of the dead nearly a week after communal violence broke out in this far western city. The official Xinhua News Agency said 137 victims were of the dominant Han ethnic group, 46 were Turkic Uighurs, and one was Hui Muslim, citing the regional government's information office. However, some Uighurs privately challenged those numbers Saturday after persistent rumors that security forces fired on Uighurs during their original protest and in following days. The previous death toll was 156. Xinhua gave no details on the newly reported deaths, including whether any were from Tuesday, when Han men seeking revenge for violence after the first protest marched through the streets with clubs and cleavers, trying to push past police guarding minority neighborhoods. On Saturday, paramilitary police carrying automatic weapons and riot shields blocked some roads leading to the largely Muslim Uighur district of the city, and groups of 30 marched along the road chanting slogans encouraging ethnic unity. Some shops were still closed, and a police van blared public announcements in the Uighur language urging residents to oppose activist Rebiya Kadeer, a 62-year-old Uighur businesswoman who lives in exile in the US, whom China says instigated the riots. She has denied it. Turkey's prime minister on Friday compared the violence to genocide. Uighurs share ethnic and cultural bonds with Turks, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's strong words came amid daily protests in Turkey. Hundreds of Turks prayed for the victims and set Chinese flags on fire in Ankara and Istanbul. "These incidents in China are as if they are genocide," said Erdogan. "We ask the Chinese government not to remain a spectator to these incidents. There is clearly a savagery here." Uighurs said they feared their death toll is much higher. "I've heard that more than 100 Uighurs have died, but nobody wants to talk about it in public," said one Uighur man who did not want to give his name, saying the situation was sensitive. However, a Han Chinese man who would only give his surname, Ma, said he thought the government numbers were correct. Protests continued Friday after a Muslim woman began complaining that the public washrooms were closed at a crowded mosque - the most important day of the week for Islamic worship. Muslims perform required ablutions, or washing, before prayer. When a group gathered around her on the sidewalk, Madina Ahtam then railed against communist rule in Xinjiang. The 26-year-old businesswoman eventually led the crowd of mostly men in a fist-pumping street march that was quickly blocked by riot police, some with automatic rifles pointed at the protesters. Women have been on the front-line in Urumqi partly because more than 1,400 men in the Muslim Uighur minority have been rounded up by police since ethnic rioting broke out July 5. As the communist government launches a sweeping security crackdown, the women have faced down troops, led protests and risked arrest by speaking out against police tactics they believe are excessive. The violence came as the Uighurs were protesting the June 26 deaths of Uighur factory workers in a brawl in southern China. The crowd then scattered throughout Urumqi, attacking Han Chinese, burning cars and smashing windows. Many Uighurs who are still free live in fear of being arrested for any act of dissent. Thousands of Chinese troops have flooded into Urumqi to separate the feuding ethnic groups, and a senior Communist Party official vowed to execute those guilty of murder in the rioting. A report in the Urumqi Evening News on Friday said police caught 190 suspects in four raids the day before. The government believes 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 in the sprawling, rugged Central Asian region, three times the size of Texas. But many of the Turkic-speaking Uighurs, with a population of 9 million in Xinjiang, accuse the dominant Han ethnic group of discriminating against them and saving all the best jobs for themselves. Many also say the Communist Party is repressive and tries to snuff out their Islamic faith, language and culture.