Monday, July 13, 2009

Chinese police kill two Uighur men as ethnic unrest flares

July 13, 2009

Chinese police kill two Uighur men as ethnic unrest flares

Police chase man in Urumqi

(Gillian Wong/AP)

Armed police chase a man as a crowd watches in Urumqi

Image :1 of 4

Chinese police today shot dead two Uighur men and wounded a third in the first official report of the use of firearms to quell unrest in the western, mainly Muslim region where a riot last week left 184 people dead.

Frightened residents of Urumqi ran into their homes and shops, slamming the doors, as police waved their guns and shouted. Reinforcements were rushed into the city, backed by armoured personnel carriers.

Officials said that officers opened fire after they were attacked as they tried to prevent three men from assaulting another with knives and rods.

"Police shot and killed two suspected lawbreakers and injured one suspected lawbreaker using legal means," said a statement released by the government of the capital of China's westernmost region of Xinjiang.

State radio said that the two men who died were members of the ethnic Uighur minority. A third Uighur was wounded.

The official Xinhua news agency said that an initial investigation found the three people attacking a fourth person with clubs and knives at 2.55pm near the People's Hospital in the heart of the city, in an area where Uighurs make up the majority of residents. "Police on patrol fired warning shots before shooting at the three suspects."

The city had recovered some semblance of normality over the weekend as more businesses began to open and restaurants started to raise their shutters and serve diners. Traffic jams clogged the streets again and buses resumed almost normal services.

It was the first time that the government had revealed the use of firearms to try to end the violence that erupted on July 5 when angry Uighurs rampaged through the city attacking Han Chinese in a riot that left 184 people dead and 1,600 injured – including 74 described as being on the verge of death. Han Chinese accounted for 137 of the dead, with Uighurs making up 46 of the total. The last victim was a member of ethnic Hui Muslim minority.

Most of the injured in ordinary hospital wards had sustained knife wounds or head injuries after they were bludgeoned with bricks or staves. No access was possible to the intensive care units where those with more serious injuries such as burns and possibly bullet wounds were being treated.

However, one Uighur woman in the People's Hospital described to The Times last week how she was hit in the ankle and her six-year-old daughter was grazed on the head as they left work on July 5 only to find themselves surrounded by a mob of stone-throwing Uighurs. She described how police opened fire and she and her child were wounded in the crossfire.

The initial riot was followed by more unrest when vigilante mobs of angry Han Chinese carrying metal pipes, wooden staves and even knives took to the streets last Tuesday and Wednesday baying for the blood of Uighurs. It was not known how many people may have been killed or injured in ensuing confrontations.

Tens of thousands of paramilitary police have poured into the city to restore order and, in many cases, to keep the two ethnic groups apart to prevent further reprisals.

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Peter S. Lopez ~aka: Peta
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