Wednesday, July 8, 2009

ethnic strife in western China

obs spread ethnic strife in western China

URUMQI, China — Sobbing Muslim women scuffled with riot police, and Chinese men wielding steel pipes and meat cleavers rampaged through the streets 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 Tuesday 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 later Wednesday, 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 successfully 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.

Earlier, officials had arranged a tour for journalists of sites that were attacked by Uighur rioters on Sunday. But the public relations event backfired spectacularly when angry women in traditional, brightly colored headscarves began to gather to protest the arrests of husbands and sons.

Some of the women screamed at security forces and jostled them in a standoff that lasted 90 minutes.

Uighurs have said this week’s rioting was triggered by the June 25 deaths of Uighur factory workers killed 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.

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