- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

URUMQI, China | China’s top communist leaders vowed to maintain stability in the west of the country in their first public comments Thursday on the recent ethnic riots that killed more than 150 people.

Late in the day, some 8,000 troops marched through one of the worst-hit areas of the Xinjiang province’s capital in a massive show of force, an apparent effort to reassure the people and prevent further violence.

An urgent nine-member Politburo Standing Committee meeting, led by President Hu Jintao, called on Communist Party members and officials at all levels to mobilize to restore order after the region’s worst ethnic violence in decades. The committee promised punishment for rioters and leniency to participants who were misled by agitators.

“Preserving and maintaining the overall stability of Xinjiang is currently the most urgent task,” the Politburo said, according to an account carried by the official Xinhua news agency.

In the parade Thursday evening, paramilitary police and special police were crammed in trucks and armored personnel carriers as helicopters circled above.

With the city apparently under control, the next major test for the government will come Friday, when large numbers of Muslim Uighurs gather for their weekly prayers.

Obul Hashim Haxim, the imam at the Liu Daowan mosque, said prayers would be held and that the rampage would be discussed.

Mosques have been shut since Sunday’s violence, which officials said killed at least 156 people and injured more than 1,100 people.

Meanwhile, Ilham Tohti, an outspoken economist who championed rights for fellow Uighurs in his native Xinjiang, has disappeared, presumably detained by police who questioned him after the ethnic violence.

The unrest was triggered by a protest of the Turkic-speaking Uighurs, upset over the deaths last month of Uighur factory workers during a brawl in southern China.

The Uighurs say security forces fatally shot many of the protesters. Officials have yet to give an ethnic breakdown of those killed.

In response to the riot, hundreds of Han Chinese charged through the city of 2.3 million Tuesday with sticks and meat cleavers, looking for Uighurs and revenge.

The meeting of the Politburo - China’s most powerful body - took place Wednesday shortly after Mr. Hu, also head of the Communist Party, returned after cutting short a trip to Italy to participate in a Group of Eight summit.

It instructed cadres to pursue tough punishment for rioters who committed “serious criminal acts of beating, smashing, looting and burning.”

“We must by law severely attack those hard-core elements who planned and organized this incident and seriously violent criminals,” the Politburo said. It also called for “preventive measures” against “enemy forces who would undermine ethnic unity” and stressed the need to preserve social stability.

China also rejected calls by Turkey to raise the issue of the unrest at the United Nation’s Security Council, of which Beijing is a permanent member.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is closely watching the situation in Xinjiang, whose Uighurs share ethnic bonds with Turks.

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