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Page last updated at 10:41 GMT, Monday, 12 October 2009 11:41 UK

Death sentences for China rioters

A guard outside the Intermediate People's Court in Urumqi - 12 October 2009
Urumqi has been under heavy security since the July riots

A Chinese court has sentenced six people to death for murder and other crimes during ethnic riots in Xinjiang region in July, state media have said.

Nearly 200 people were killed during the riots between ethnic Uighurs and members of China's dominant Han group.

A seventh person received a life sentence, the official Xinhua news agency said.

These are the first convictions relating to the riots - the worst ethnic clashes in China for decades.

The six sentenced to death at the Intermediate People's Court in Urumqi - Xinjiang's capital - were reported to be Abdukerim Abduwayit, Gheni Yusup, Abdulla Mettohti, Adil Rozi, Nureli Wuxiu'er, and Alim Metyusup.

As well as murder, state media reported that they were convicted of other crimes ranging from arson, leading mobs and causing "economic loss".

Rising tensions

Tayirejan Abulimit was given the lesser punishment of life imprisonment because he admitted to charges of murder and robbery and helped the police capture Alim Metyusup.

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Footage of the rioting between Uighurs and Han in July

The government says most of those killed in the riots were Han Chinese, but the exile activist group the World Uighur Congress (WUC) claims many Uighurs were also killed.

Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the WUC, said the trial had been a sham.

"The whole process lacked transparency and was unfair. They were not given any kind of legal aid," he told Reuters news agency.

"Uighurs have no protection under the law."

A protest by Uighurs in Urumqi erupted into violence on 5 July, leaving at least 197 people killed and another 1,700 injured.

Shops were smashed and vehicles set alight and passers-by set upon by rioters.

'Heavy police presence'

Hundreds of people were detained after the violence and, according to Xinhua, 21 people have been charged.

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville says 14 people are still waiting to be tried.

"It is a very long way from Beijing but it is one of the most heavily policed parts of the country," our correspondent says.

"The security forces are really keeping the peace between these two ethnic populations in that part of China."

Further ethnic unrest in Xinjiang was provoked in August by a wave of attacks with hypodermic syringes that many Han blamed on Uighurs.

Growing tensions

The initial protest in July was over an earlier fight in a toy factory in Guangdong province - on the other side of China - that left two Uighurs dead and 14 others seriously injured.

On Saturday a court in Guangdong sentenced Xiao Jianhua to death and Xu Qiqi to a life sentence for their roles in the factory brawl.

Map of Xinjiang

Nine others were jailed for sentences of between five to eight years for the violence at the Xuri Toy Factory.

Tensions between the mainly-Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang and Han have been growing in recent years. Millions of Han have moved to the region in recent decades.

Many Uighurs want more autonomy and rights for their culture and religion - Islam - than is allowed by China's strict centrist rule.

According to a government white paper on Xinjiang, released last month, the July riots were caused by Uighur separatists promoting an independent "East Turkestan".

It also noted that during the violence 331 shops and 1,325 motor vehicles were destroyed or burned with many public facilities also attacked.



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