- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

URUMQI, China | The government imposed a curfew Tuesday night in this regional capital of western China after mobs of Han Chinese armed with meat cleavers and clubs roamed the streets looking for Muslim Uighurs who had earlier beaten up people in the country’s worst ethnic violence in decades.

Rioting in the Xinjiang region broke out Sunday and has killed at least 156 people. Tuesday’s violence came despite swarms of paramilitary and riot police enforcing a dragnet that state media said led to the arrests of more than 1,400 people in the often tense region.

Members of the Uighur ethnic group attacked people near Urumqi’s railway station, and women in head scarves protested the arrests of their husbands and sons in another part of the city. For much of the afternoon, a mob of 1,000 mostly young Han Chinese holding cleavers and clubs and chanting: “Defend the country” tore through streets trying to get to a Uighur neighborhood until they were repulsed by police firing tear gas.

Panic and anger bubbled up amid the suspicion in Urumqi. In some neighborhoods, Han Chinese - China’s majority ethnic group - armed themselves with pieces of lumber and shovels to defend themselves. People bought up bottled water out of fear, as one resident said, “The Uighurs might poison the water.”

The central government has slowed mobile phone and Internet services, blocked Twitter, censored Chinese social networking and news sites and accused Uighurs living in exile of inciting Sunday’s riot. State media coverage, however, carried graphic video and pictures of the unrest - showing mainly Han Chinese victims and stoking the anger.

The violence is a further embarrassment for a Chinese leadership preparing for the 60th anniversary of communist rule in October and calling for the creation of a “harmonious society” to celebrate.

Years of rapid development have failed to smooth over the ethnic fault lines in Xinjiang.

Ethnic Uighurs have watched growing numbers of Han Chinese move into the region, one of China’s fastest-growing, where oil and gas industries make up most of the $61 billion economy.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang blamed the violence on Rebiya Kadeer, the U.S.-exiled head of the World Uyghur Congress and Uyghur American Association.

In Washington, Ms. Kadeer denied the accusations.

Sunday’s riot started as a peaceful demonstration by Uighurs over a deadly fight at a factory in eastern China between Han Chinese and Uighur workers. But it spiraled out of control, as mainly Uighur groups beat people and set fire to vehicles and shops belonging to Han Chinese.

Urumqi’s Communist Party leader Li Zhi told a news conference that more than 1,000 people had been detained as of early Tuesday and suggested that more arrests were under way.

Officials at the news conference said they could not give an ethnic breakdown of the dead.

Meanwhile, the top United Nations human rights official on Tuesday called on Chinese authorities and ethnic groups in Xinjiang to refrain from further violence after what she called “a major tragedy,” according to Reuters news agency.

Navi Pillay, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said that demonstrators had the right to protest peacefully and that those arrested should be treated in line with international law.

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