No sign of violence on anniversary of ethnic rioting in China’s Xinjiang region

By Alexa Olesen, AP
Monday, July 5, 2010

Riot anniversary in China passes off peacefully

BEIJING — Teams of police patrolled streets in the western region of Xinjiang as part of stringent security controls Monday on the one-year anniversary of China’s worst ethnic violence in decades. Despite tensions, there was no apparent sign of unrest.

An ethnic Han Chinese man who runs the Little West Gate Family Hotel in the regional capital of Urumqi said his family spent the day indoors as a precaution. The man, who would only give his surname Zhang, said shoppers had to go through airport-style security checks at the open air market in the city’s center.

Bags also were searched at airports, train stations and bus stops, said a receptionist surnamed Fang at the Yilong Hotel.

Long-standing tensions between Xinjiang’s minority Uighurs and majority Han Chinese migrants flared into open violence in Urumqi one year ago, triggered by the deaths of Uighur (pronounced WEE-gur) factory workers in the country’s south.

The government — which accused overseas Uighur groups of plotting the violence, something they deny — said 197 people were killed. In response to the violence, Beijing suspended the region’s Internet, international telephone and text messaging links for more than six months.

The government arrested hundreds of people and sentenced about two dozen to death.

Overseas Uighur activist Dilxat Raxit said Monday that people in Xinjiang told his organization by telephone they had been warned not to hold any ceremonies mourning those who died.

“Many people had planned to mark the occasion,” he said. “But word came through the various neighborhood committees that it wasn’t allowed.”

Raxit, a spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, reiterated his group’s appeal for China to allow an independent investigation into the riots.

Xinjiang’s public security bureau said in a statement Sunday campaigns had been launched to seize illegal weapons and explosives. Security also had been boosted in areas with higher rates of crime, it said, without elaborating.

China’s state-run media have aired numerous propaganda pieces about Xinjiang in recent days, making no mention of last year’s violence. Instead, they featured stories about Han and Uighur neighbors helping each other and about government subsidized housing for minorities.

China’s leaders say all ethnic groups are treated equally and point to the billions of dollars in investment that has modernized Xinjiang, a strategically vital region with significant oil and gas deposits.

But authorities have been accused of alienating the Uighurs, Turkic Muslims who are ethnically and linguistically distinct from China’s Han majority, with tight restrictions on cultural and religious expression and nonviolent dissent.

Many Uighurs say they suffer discrimination in jobs and cannot get loans and passports.

Ilham Tohti, an ethnic Uighur economics professor at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing who has been detained for his frank criticism of problems in Xinjiang, said too many Uighurs are wary of speaking out.

“Uighurs do not even trust their friends and colleagues, let alone Han Chinese and the government,” he said, adding that they are worried about speaking to possible informants. “People are afraid to express their opinions, and are afraid to say something wrong, which could harm their lives.”

Associated Press researcher Xi Yue contributed to this report.

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