- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009

China’s crackdown on Muslim protesters in the western province of Xinjiang took an even more ominous turn Wednesday as a Communist Party official vowed to execute those responsible for the deadly riots.

A Chinese Embassy spokesman in Washington told The Washington Times that more than 1,000 people have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the unrest, which has left at least 156 dead and 1,080 injured, according to an official count.

“These people are being investigated, and the relevant Chinese department will deal with criminal suspects according to the law,” Wang Baodong said.

In the provincial capital of Urumqi, Communist Party chief Li Zhi told a televised news conference that students were among those arrested.

“To those who committed crimes with cruel means, we will execute them,” Mr. Li said, according to an Associated Press report. He added that government forces would crack down on any security risk.

Public Security Minister Meng Jiangzhu was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying that “key rioters should be punished with the utmost severity.”

Uighurs and Han Chinese roamed the streets of Urumqi on Wednesday, clashing repeatedly as the government swamped the area with troops. Although no new casualties were reported, human rights groups and Uighur organizations said the death toll in clashes over the weekend is much higher than the official tally.

The unrest prompted Chinese President Hu Jintao to cut short a trip to Italy for a Group of Eight summit.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the Obama administration is “deeply concerned” about the situation in Xinjiang and called on all parties there to exercise restraint.

However, some rights groups and Uighurs have asked for a tougher U.S. stance.

“We haven’t yet seen a very coherent statement out of the Obama administration on how it is going to discuss human rights in China. We are six months in, we have had some major incidents and it is not helpful that the administration has not been clear yet on how it is going to raise these issues,” said Sophie Richardson, Washington-based advocacy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton dropped in on a meeting between Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, Mr. Kelly said. He said the unrest in Xinjiang “did come up” during the meeting but that he did not have a “full readout” of the conversation.

The protests in Xinjiang appear to have begun peacefully Sunday as a march in Urumqi by students demonstrating against the deaths of two Uighur toy factory workers in southern China last month.

That the demonstrations deteriorated into clashes reflected long-standing tensions between Uighurs and Han Chinese, who dominate Urumqi and appear to have benefited more from economic modernization in Xinjiang, a region rich in natural resources.

Alim Seytoff, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, accused the Chinese government of targeting Uighurs in the crackdown.

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