7 Jul 2009

China imposes curfew on riot-torn city

10:46 pm on 7 July 2009

China will impose a curfew over the capital of the Muslim region of Xinjiang on Tuesday night after trying to break up protests two days after ethnic clashes killed 156 and wounded more than 1000.

The curfew would run from 9.00pm on Tuesday to 8.00am on Wednesday, Xinhua news agency quoted the region's Communist Party boss as saying.

Protests have flared again in the city of Urumqi, following rioting at the weekend. Xinhua reported 1434 people have been arrested so far.

Riot police fired tear gas to disperse rock-throwing Han and Uighur protesters who clashed in the region on Tuesday.

Almost half of Xinjiang's 20 million people are Uighurs, a Muslim minority, while the population of Urumqi is mostly Han Chinese.

Hundreds of Han protesters, many clutching meat cleavers, metal pipes and wooden clubs smashed shops owned by Uighurs.

Anti-riot police armed with clubs and shields pushed the Han protesters away from a Uighur neighbourhood but they briefly broke through police lines.

About 200 Uighurs protesting against the arrest of relatives also clashed with police on Tuesday.

Many were women, wailing and waving the identity cards of husbands, brothers or sons they say were arbitrarily seized in a sweeping reaction to rioting on Sunday.

Police also dispersed about 200 people at the Id Kah mosque in the Silk Road city of Kashgar on Monday evening, Xinhua reported.

The report did not say if police used force, but said checkpoints had been set up at crossroads between Kashgar airport and downtown. Kashgar is in the far west of Xinjiang.

Politically sensitive region

Along with Tibet, Xinjiang is one of the most politically sensitive regions in China and in both places the government has sought to maintain its grip by controlling religious and cultural life while promising economic growth and prosperity.

But minorities have long complained that Han Chinese reap most of the benefits from official investment and subsidies, making locals feel like outsiders.

Chinese officials have already blamed the unrest on separatist groups overseas, who it says want to create an independent homeland for the Muslim Uighur minority.

Exiled Uighur businesswoman and activist Rebiya Kadeer, blamed by Chinese state media for being behind the violence, denied having anything to do with it.

Uighurs spoken to by Reuters traced the protests on Sunday back to their own anger over a confrontation in far southern China in late June, when two Uighurs were killed in a fight with Han Chinese in a factory, sparked by a false rape allegation.

NZ community 'shocked' at scale of riots

Members of the Chinese community in New Zealand say they are alarmed at the scale of riots.

A political studies lecturer at Auckland University, Dr Jiang Yang, says he is shocked by the enormity of the situation.

He says many in the community will condemn the way the Chinese government handled the situation with Uighur groups.

A Chinese community group representative, James To, says the reports are devastating but he expects Chinese New Zealanders to be divided over the issue.

Mr To says some will support the Chinese government's actions while others will sympathise with the Uighurs' fight for political freedom.