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China arrests hundreds after 156 die in riots

URUMQI, China — Police have arrested 1,434 people in connection with the worst ethnic violence in decades in China's western Xinjiang region, which killed at least 156 people, state media reported today.

The arrests come amid a security clampdown on the region, with hundreds of paramilitary police with shields, rifles and clubs taking control of the streets of the capital, Urumqi, where the riots took place on Sunday.

The violence does not bode well for China's efforts to ease long-simmering ethnic tensions between the minority Uighur people and the ethnic Han Chinese in Xinjiang — a sprawling region three times the size of Texas that shares borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries.

Mobile phone service and the social networking site Twitter have been blocked, and Internet links were cut or slowed down.

A nonviolent protest by 200 people was broken up in a second city, Kashgar, and the official Xinhua News Agency said police had evidence that demonstrators were trying to organize more unrest in Kashgar, Yili and Aksu. It said police had raided several groups plotting unrest.

The unrest in Urumqi began Sunday after 1,000 to 3,000 demonstrators gathered at the People's Square to protest the June 25 deaths of Uighur factory workers in a riot in southern China. Xinhua said two died; other sources put the figure higher.

Many Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) haven't been wooed by the rapid economic development. Some want independence, while others feel they're being marginalized in their homeland. The Han — China's ethnic majority — have been flooding into Xinjiang as the region becomes more developed.

The government often says the Uighurs should be grateful for the roads, railways, schools, hospitals and oil fields it has been building in Xinjiang, a region known for scorching deserts and snowy mountain ranges.

A similar situation exists in Tibet, where a violent protest last year has left many Tibetan communities living under clamped-down security.

"The Han Chinese say we all belong to the same country. We're all part of one big family," said Memet, a restaurant worker who like other Uighurs declined to give his full name because he feared the police. "But the Han always treat us separately."

There were no independent figures on the ethnic breakdown of the casualties. Xinhua quoted Li Yi, head of the publicity department of the Communist Party in Xinjiang, as saying that 129 men and 27 women died. Li said 1,080 people were hurt in the rioting.

China arrests hundreds after 156 die in riots 07/07/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 7:29am]
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