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156 die, 800 injured in Xinjiang riots

HUNDREDS arrested in crackdown on violence

AT least 156 people were killed and more than 800 injured in the worst riots to hit northwest China's Xinjiang in decades, officials said yesterday, adding that the death toll will probably rise.

Several dozens of bodies were retrieved from the streets of Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, while all the other fatalities were confirmed at hospitals, Liu Yaohua, the region's police chief, told a news conference yesterday.

A preliminary investigation determined that 203 shops and 14 homes were destroyed in violence that began on Sunday night. Rioters burned 261 motor vehicles, including 190 buses, at least 10 taxis and two police cars, Liu said. Several vehicles were still seen ablaze on Urumqi's streets yesterday morning, he said.

By yesterday evening, police had arrested about 700 people in connection with the riot, including at least a dozen who were suspected of fanning the unrest.

Urumqi police said they learned early Sunday from Internet forums that a demonstration would take place at 7pm to protest the handling of a fight between Uygur and Han people in a toy factory in south China's Guangdong Province.

Violence spreads

At 6:20pm, more than 100 people had gathered. Violence began around 8pm, when some rioters started beating pedestrians and smashing buses on Heping Road, officials said.

The violence soon spread to many other downtown areas.

Authorities said buildings in the residential compounds of the traffic police department and the taxation bureau in Tianshan District were severely burned.

"It was like a war zone here, with many bodies of ethnic Han people lying on the road," said Huang Yabo, deputy director of the Urumqi Public Security Bureau.

Traffic blockades were partially lifted yesterday morning in parts of the city, but tension still existed, with armed police patrolling some areas, witnesses said.

Shops shut down

Most shops in areas where the violence occurred remained closed.

At a market on Guangming Road, only 10 vegetable and fruit stalls were open yesterday, compared with dozens normally.

An initial investigation showed the violence was masterminded by the separatist World Uyghur Congress led by Rebiya Kadeer, according to the regional government.

Rebiya Kadeer, a former businesswoman in China, was detained in 1999 on charges of harming national security. She was released on bail on March 17, 2005, to seek medical treatment in the United States.

"The violence was ... instigated and directed from abroad, and carried out by outlaws in the country," a government statement said yesterday.

According to the government, the World Uyghur Congress has been stirring unrest via the Internet, calling on supporters "to be braver" and "to do something big."

Nur Bekri, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, said in a televised speech yesterday morning that the "three forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism" made use of a fight between Uygur and Han ethnic workers in the toy factory in Guangdong Province on June 26, in which two Uygur workers died, to create chaos.


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