Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Tuesday, 7 July 2009 14:30 UK

Riots engulf Chinese Uighur city


Crowds of Han Chinese and Uighurs were separated by riot police

Groups of ethnic Han Chinese have marched through the city of Urumqi carrying clubs and machetes, as tension grows between ethnic groups and police.

Security forces imposed a curfew and fired tear gas to disperse the crowds, who said they were angry at violence carried out by ethnic Muslim Uighurs.

Earlier, Uighur women had rallied against the arrest of more than 1,400 people over deadly clashes on Sunday.

The two sides blame each other for the outbreak of violence.

Quentin Somerville
Quentin Sommerville, Urumqi

There are many armed military police standing around, also a few remnants of those Han Chinese demonstrators, still people wandering around the city carrying poles and batons and some carrying knives.

There's a great air of trepidation here as to how this night will play out.

I wouldn't have thought today that I would have seen Uighur men and women acting so defiantly in the face of Han Chinese authority, but they did.

I wouldn't have thought that thousands of Han Chinese would be able to walk freely through a Chinese city and march and shout slogans.

Xinjiang is one of the most tightly-controlled parts of the country. Those controls seem to have slipped quite considerably.

Officials say 156 people - mostly ethnic Han Chinese - died in Sunday's violence. Uighur groups say many more have died, claiming 90% of the dead were Uighurs.

The unrest erupted when Uighur protesters attacked vehicles before turning on local Han Chinese and battling security forces in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province.

They had initially been protesting over a brawl between Uighurs and Han Chinese several weeks earlier in a toy factory thousands of miles away in Guangdong province.

On Tuesday about 200 Uighurs - mostly women - faced off against riot police to appeal for more than 1,400 people arrested over Sunday's violence to be freed.

'Heart-breaking' violence

Later hundreds of Han Chinese marched through the streets of Urumqi smashing shops and stalls belonging to Uighurs.

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville, in Urumqi, says some of the protesters were shouting "down with Uighurs" as they rampaged through the streets armed with homemade weapons.

BBC map
Xinjiang population is 45% Uighur, 40% Han Chinese
Uighurs are ethnically Turkic Muslims
China re-established control in 1949 after crushing short-lived state of East Turkestan
Since then, large-scale immigration of Han Chinese
Sporadic violence since 1991
Attack on 4 Aug 2008 near Kashgar kills 16 Chinese policemen

Police attempted to block access to the bazaar and other Uighur districts of the city and fired tear gas as the Han Chinese confronted groups of Uighurs.

One protester, clutching a metal bar, told the AFP news agency: "The Uighurs came to our area to smash things, now we are going to their area to beat them."

Urumqi's mayor, Jierla Yishamudin, said a "life and death" struggle was being waged to maintain China's unity.

"It is neither an ethnic issue nor a religious issue, but a battle of life and death to defend the unification of our motherland and to maintain the consolidation of all ethnic groups, a political battle that's fierce and of blood and fire," he told a news conference.

One official described Sunday's unrest as the "deadliest riot since New China was founded in 1949".

Xinjiang's Communist Party chief Wang Lequan announced during a televised address that a curfew would run from 2100 until 0800.

State-run news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying any ethnic violence was "heart-breaking" and blaming "hostile forces both at home and abroad" for the trouble.

China's authorities have repeatedly claimed that exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer is stirring up trouble in the region.

But she told the BBC she was not responsible for any of the violence.

"Last time during the Tibet riots, [the Chinese government] blamed the Dalai Lama, and now with the Xinjiang riot, they are blaming me," she said.

"I will never damage the relationship between two communities and will never damage the relationship between people. For me, all human beings are equal."

Map of Urumqi

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