URUMQI, China — Sobbing Muslim women scuffled with riot police, and Chinese men wielding steel pipes, meat cleavers and sticks rampaged through the streets Tuesday as ethnic tensions worsened in China's oil-rich Xinjiang territory, prompting the president to cut short a summit trip abroad Wednesday.
The new violence in Xinjiang's capital erupted only a few hours after the city's top officials told reporters the streets in Urumqi were returning to normal following a riot that killed 156 people Sunday. The officials also said more than 1,000 suspects had been rounded up since the spasm of attacks by Muslim Uighurs against Han Chinese, the ethnic majority.
President Hu Jintao, who was in Italy to take part in a Group of Eight meeting today, departed early to return home to deal with the outbreak of violence in Xinjiang, the Foreign Ministry said on its Web site.
The chaos returned when hundreds of young Han men seeking revenge began gathering on sidewalks with kitchen knives, clubs, shovels and wooden poles. They spent most of the afternoon marching through the streets, smashing windows of Muslim restaurants and trying to push past police cordons protecting minority neighborhoods. Riot police fought them back with volleys of tear gas and a massive show of force.
At one point, the mob chased a boy who looked like he was a Uighur. The youth, who appeared to be about 12, climbed a tree, and the crowd tried to whack his legs with their sticks as the terrified boy cried. He was eventually allowed to leave unharmed as the rioters ran off to focus on another target.
About 200 Uighur women protesting in the street were quickly sandwiched by hundreds of police on both ends of the road, along with trucks with water cannons. Some women screamed at the security forces and jostled the men, who were armed with assault rifles, tear gas guns, shields and sticks. The crowd dispersed after a standoff that lasted 90 minutes.
Uighurs have said this week's rioting was triggered by the June 25 deaths of Uighur factory workers in a brawl in the southern Chinese city of Shaoguan.
State-run media have said two workers died, but many Uighurs believe more were killed and said the incident was an example of how little the government cared about them.