- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 12, 2009

URUMQI, China | Muslim Uighurs on Saturday disputed the Chinese government’s claim that most of the 184 people killed in communal rioting in their western province were from the Han Chinese majority.

Identifying the ethnic backgrounds of the dead for the first time since the July 5 unrest in western Xinjiang, the government’s Xinhua news agency cited provincial officials as saying 137 victims were Han while 46 were Uighurs and one was a Hui, from another Muslim group.

Uighurs on the streets of the Xinjiang capital, Urumqi, and from exile activist groups disputed the new figures, citing persistent rumors that security forces fired on Uighurs during Sunday’s protest and in subsequent days.

“I’ve heard that more than 100 Uighurs have died, but nobody wants to talk about it in public,” said one Uighur man, who did not want to give his name because the city remains tense and security forces are pervasive.

Uighurs repeatedly have told foreign journalists in Urumqi that police shot at crowds. The accounts have been difficult to verify, except in isolated cases. Security forces have shown discipline in dealing with agitated and angry crowds of Uighurs and Han in the days after the riot.

Nearly a week after the July 5 disturbance, officials had not made public key details about the riots and what happened next. Xinhua’s brief report, which raised the death toll by nearly 30, did not specify whether all were killed on July 5 or afterward, when vigilante mobs ran through the city with bricks, clubs and cleavers.

China’s communist leadership has ordered forces across Xinjiang to mobilize to put down any unrest, adding a note of official worry that violence might spread elsewhere. The state-run China News Service said that authorities on Monday arrested an unspecified number of people plotting to instigate a riot in Yining. a city near Xinjiang’s border with Kazakhstan.

In a separate report, the news agency said that some of the rioters in Urumqi came from Kashgar, Hotan and other cities in the region, which abuts Pakistan, Afghanistan and other parts of Central Asia.

In Urumqi, some Chinese held funeral rites for their dead Saturday. At a makeshift funeral parlor along an alley, friends paid respects at an altar with photos of the dead: a couple and the woman’s parents, all beaten to death in the riot.

Security forces patrolled the city in thick numbers. Paramilitary police carrying automatic weapons and riot shields blocked some roads leading to one largely Uighur district.

In one Uighur neighborhood, a police van blared public announcements in the Uighur language urging residents to oppose activist Rebiya Kadeer, a 62-year-old Uighur businesswoman who lives in exile in the U.S.

China says Ms. Kadeer instigated the riots. She has denied it.

Ms. Kadeer, president of the pro-independence World Uyghur Congress, and other overseas activists say that many more Uighurs have accused authorities of downplaying the toll to cover up killings by Chinese security forces. “We believe the actual number of people dead, wounded and arrested is much higher,” she said in an interview Friday in Washington.

Ms. Kadeer has said at least 500 people were killed, while other overseas groups have put the toll even higher, citing accounts from Uighurs in China.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey - whose people share an ethnic and cultural bond with the Uighurs and have been holding daily protests in their support - urged Beijing to prevent attacks on the minority group.

“These incidents in China are as if they are genocide,” Mr. Erdogan said Friday. “We ask the Chinese government not to remain a spectator to these incidents. There is clearly a savagery here.”

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