x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

China sends in troops to restore calm

Thousands of troops flood into Urumqi city in China's north-western province of Xinjiang in a massive show of force as authorities try to restore calm.

Chinese riot police in full gear arrive in downtown Urumqi in China's north-western province of Xinjiang yesterday.
Chinese riot police in full gear arrive in downtown Urumqi in China's north-western province of Xinjiang yesterday.

Beijing // Thousands of troops flooded into Urumqi city in China's north-western province of Xinjiang yesterday in a massive show of force as authorities tried to restore calm. Mobs armed with makeshift weapons roamed the streets seeking to place blame and enact revenge for ethnic violence that took more than 150 lives on Sunday.

The instability prompted the president, Hu Jintao, to cut short his plans to attend the G8 summit, which began yesterday in Italy, underpinning the severity of the worst ethnic violence in China in decades. Although China is not a member of the Group of Eight, the president, who heads the Central Military Commission, which has supreme control of the country's armed forced, was to attend the summit. A state councillor, Dai Bingguo, would attend in place of Mr Hu, Xinhua reported.

Helicopters circled the regional capital yesterday where 156 people were killed on Sunday and more than 1,000 injured in the riots that divided the city into ethnic mobs blaming each other for the unrest. Soldiers and riot police chanted "Protect the people" as they marched through the city, restoring security in some neighbourhoods, where Han Chinese lay their weapons down. "We support this," a 45-year-old Han Chinese man told Agence France-Presse while watching the troops arrive. "But they should have got here sooner. It took them three days to do this. Why so long?"

Thousands of armed Han Chinese took to the streets on Tuesday, two days after the first riots erupted, many calling for bloody revenge on the ethnic Uighurs, who authorities hold responsible for the weekend's unrest. Urumqi's mayor, Jerla Isamudin, told reporters yesterday afternoon that the situation was "under control" and vowed that those responsible for the killings would face the death sentence.

More than 1,400 people have been arrested since the weekend's uprisings. On Tuesday, hundreds of ethnic Uighurs confronted heavily armed police protesting against the arrest. Many claim their relatives have been arrested unjustly. Urumqi was placed under curfew on Tuesday night following renewed riots. The deployment of thousands of riot police who divided the city brought some order to the city. Cars returned to the streets and businesses reopened.

But groups of Uighurs and Hans continued to arm themselves with knives, sticks and poles and met in violent clashes. A group of 20 Han Chinese with wooden bats were reported to have attacked a Uighur man and there were further reports of gangs of about 200 Uighurs protesting with makeshift weapons in front of police separating their neighbourhood from a Han district. Helicopters dropped leaflets in an area where groups of armed Uighurs traded insults with Han Chinese.

The leaflets blamed Sunday's attack on an exiled Uighur leader, Rebiya Kadeer. Among allegations yesterday were claims that police had allowed Han Chinese to freely attack Muslim areas overnight. Chinese authorities blame separatists for the violence. State-run media reported the violence was carried out against the Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group in China, who have in recent years been encouraged to migrate into the region.

Ms Kadeer in an opinion column written in The Wall Street Journal rebuked claims that she was responsible for the unrest. "Years of Chinese repression of Uighurs topped by a confirmation that Chinese officials have no interest in observing the rule of law when Uighurs are concerned is the cause of the current Uighur discontent." "Judging from what Rebiya Kadeer, leader of the World Uighurs Congress, had said and done, it is fair to say the organisation masterminded the incident," Li Wei, the director of the Centre for Counter-Terrorism Studies, told Xinhua news agency.

State media broadcast interviews with bloodied victims of the riots on national news yesterday, interviewing both Uighurs and Han Chinese caught up in violence. "I can't help asking myself one question. How can humans become so cruel like animals?" asked Xiao Hei, a 24-year-old Han, watching the report in Beijing. Authorities say the riots were a reaction to deaths in the south of China last month that had been sparked by rumours that ethnic Uighurs had raped two women.

Police have detained 15 people accused of spreading the rumours on the internet. Comparisons have been drawn with the riots in Lhasa in March 2008. The central government blamed that violence on separatists they say are led by the Dalai Lama. In the latest unrest, it has accused international Uighurs of trying to create a Uighur homeland. The central government maintains that it has brought prosperity to the region, while many Uighurs have grown frustrated by Han dominance of the economy.

The government also noted the timing of the riots. China this year marks the 60th anniversary since the Communist Party came to power. @Email:dvincent@thenational.ae