Police today fired tear gas to disperse thousands of Han Chinese protesters armed with makeshift weapons and vowing revenge as chaos gripped the flashpoint city of Urumqi. Authorities ordered a night curfew and thousands of heavily armed police deployed across the capital of China's remote north-west Xinjiang region. But tensions spiked dramatically following weekend clashes that claimed at least 156 lives.
Authorities said they had arrested 1,434 suspects, accusing them of murder, assault, looting and burning during attacks by Muslim Uighurs against the Han, China's dominant ethnic group who are seen in Xinjiang as oppressors. But despite the security clampdown involving police with submachine guns, shotguns and batons, mobs of Han Chinese marched through Urumqi - with many wielding bricks, chains and poles and bent on reprisals against Uighurs.
"The Uighurs came to our area to smash things, now we are going to their area to beat them," one protester, who was carrying a metal pipe, said. Dong Sun, a 19-year-old leader of one mob, expressed similar fury. "There are more of us," he said in reference to the number of Han Chinese versus Uighurs. "It is time we looked after ourselves instead of waiting for the government." Police repeatedly fired volleys of tear gas, but many of the demonstrators refused to yield ground despite their eyes streaming and their throats welling with pain, a witness said.
By late afternoon there were no reports of deaths or injuries in Tuesday's unrest. But mobs continued to march through the streets. Meanwhile, authorities confirmed they had cut off internet access in parts of Urumqi in an attempt to control the flow of information. "We cut internet connection in some areas of Urumqi in order to quench the riot quickly and prevent violence from spreading to other places," the city's top Communist Party official, Li Zhi, told state media.
But the authorities' efforts to impose a blackout have been stymied by a flood of pictures, videos and eyewitness updates appearing on popular websites such as Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. Authorities also reported that police dispersed "more than 200 rioters" who gathered on Monday night outside the main mosque in Kashgar, another city in Xinjiang about 1,050km south-west of Urumqi. *AFP