Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Troops flood into China riot city!

'Troops have been marching all morning'

Thousands of security forces have been deployed in the city of Urumqi in China's Xinjiang region to try to end deadly ethnic clashes.

The show of force comes as Chinese President Hu Jintao cut short a visit to Italy for the G8 summit to deal with the crisis.

The unrest between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese began on Sunday and has left 156 people dead.

More than 1,400 people have been arrested over the violence.

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville, reporting from Urumqi's Uighur neighbourhood, says there are thousands of paramilitary police in the city in a situation he says is martial law in all but name.

AT THE SCENE: 8 JULY
Quentin Somerville
Quentin Sommerville, Urumqi

Here in Urumqi's Uighur Muslim neighbourhood, just on the edge, many hundreds of paramilitary police are on the move. They are seeking to separate this mainly Muslim part of the city from Han Chinese.

Riot police are all around with shields, helmets, some are carrying semi-automatic weapons, others have clubs. They are lining up across the streets to separate these two sides.

We haven't seen any violence yet, we did see some Han Chinese running with batons, they were chased down a side street but this is massive deployment of troops on a scale this city hasn't seen in a very, very long time. It feels like martial law in everything but name.

Our correspondent says the situation is still tense, with rumours of Han Chinese attacking a Uighur child and counter-rumours the other way.

He says security forces in full body armour and with semi-automatic weapons have drawn a line between the two communities, although areas have not been fully sealed off and people can still move about.

Reporters from the AFP news agency said they had seen fresh violence on Wednesday, including one attack on a Uighur man by about 20 Han Chinese.

In another incident they said about 200 Uighurs carrying sticks and pipes protested in front of a police cordon.

President Hu was expected to join G8 talks taking place in Rome on Thursday.

Instead he was flying home from an airport in Pisa, leaving officials to represent China at the G8 summit.

A state visit to Portugal has also been cancelled, China's official news agency Xinhua said.

Our correspondent says the authorities in Xinjiang have been told they have to sort the crisis out as soon as possible amid the embarrassment of Mr Hu having to cancel his G8 attendance.

He says promises by the government of Mr Hu, a former party leader of troubled neighbouring Tibet, to guarantee ethnic harmony and stability in western China increasingly lack credibility.

On Tuesday, riot police fired tear gas to break up groups of Han Chinese armed with clubs, who said they were angry at violence carried out by Uighurs in the north-western province.

XINJIANG: ETHNIC UNREST
BBC map
Main ethnic division: 45% Uighur, 40% Han Chinese
26 June: Mass factory brawl after dispute between Han and Uighurs in Guangdong, southern China, leaves two dead
5 July: Uighur protest in Urumqi over the dispute turns violent, leaving 156 dead and more than 1,000 hurt
7 July: Uighur women protest at arrests of men-folk. Han Chinese make armed counter-march
8 July: President Hu Jintao returns from G8 summit to tackle crisis

Early in the day, Uighur women had rallied against the arrest of family members, saying hundreds of their men had been detained arbitrarily in a massive police sweep through Urumqi's Uighur districts.

Later hundreds of Han Chinese marched through the streets of Urumqi smashing shops and stalls belonging to Uighurs.

Our correspondent says some of the protesters were shouting "down with Uighurs" as they rampaged through the streets armed with homemade weapons.

The Han Chinese said they were angry at the failure of security forces to protect their community on Sunday.

Officials say 156 people - mostly Han Chinese - died in Sunday's violence. Uighur groups say many more have died, claiming 90% of the dead were Uighurs.

One official described Sunday's unrest as the "deadliest riot since New China was founded in 1949".

The unrest erupted when Uighur protesters attacked vehicles before turning on local Han Chinese and battling security forces.

They had initially been protesting over a brawl between Uighurs and Han Chinese several weeks earlier in a toy factory thousands of miles away in Guangdong province.

China's authorities have repeatedly claimed that exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer is stirring up trouble in the region. But she told the BBC she was not responsible for any of the violence.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

Tensions have been growing in Xinjiang for many years, as Han Chinese migrants have poured into the region, where the Uighur minority is concentrated.

Many Uighurs feel economic growth has bypassed them and complain of discrimination and diminished opportunities.

Some Uighurs support the notion of an independent state and there have been a number of bombings and some attacks on security forces.

Chinese authorities say the Xinjiang separatists are terrorists with links to al-Qaeda and receive support from outside the country.

Campaigners accuse China of exaggerating the threat to justify tough security clampdowns in the region.

Map of Urumqi

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BBC NEWS REPORT.

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