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Page last updated at 12:59 GMT, Friday, 10 July 2009 13:59 UK

China reimposes curfew in Urumqi

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Quentin Sommerville witnesses Chinese security forces hitting protesters

A night-time curfew has been reimposed in the restive western Chinese city of Urumqi, officials have announced.

The curfew had been suspended for the last two days after officials said they had the city under control.

Mosques in the city were ordered to remain closed on Friday - but at least two opened at the request of crowds of Muslim Uighurs that gathered outside.

The city remains tense after Sunday's outbreak of ethnic violence that killed 156 people and wounded more than 1,000.

Thousands of people - both Han Chinese and Uighurs - are reportedly trying to leave the city.

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville, who is in Urumqi, said the authorities announced the city would be under curfew on Friday from 1900 local time (1100GMT).

'Safety is paramount'

News of the curfew came as hundreds of Muslim Uighurs defied an order to stay at home for Friday prayers.

Quentin Sommerville
Quentin Sommerville, BBC News, Urumqi

After Friday's prayers, a small group of Uighur Muslims marched along an Urumqi street demanding the release of men detained for their alleged role in last Sunday's riot.

A large number of riot police surrounded the group, they punched and kicked the protestors - one officer used his baton to beat one of the Uighurs. A number of foreign journalists had their equipment seized, some have been detained.

Earlier the group said they feared for their safety. There's no word from the authorities as to what happened to them.

Officials had posted notices outside Urumqi's mosques instructing people to stay at home to worship on Friday, the holiest day of the week in Islam.

One official told AP the decision was made "for the sake of public safety".

But worshippers gathered outside a number of mosques in the city demanding to be allowed in.

"We decided to open the mosque because so many people had gathered. We did not want an incident," a policeman outside the White Mosque in a Uighur neighbourhood told the Associated Press.

One worshipper, speaking after attending prayers, said they had been warned to be careful.

"They told us safety is paramount and we should quickly finish our prayers, go home and have a good rest," he said.

After the prayers, riot police punched and kicked a small group of Uighurs protesters, who demanded the release of men detained after last Sunday's violence, our correspondent says.

Mass exodus

Meanwhile, the city's main bus station is reported to be crowded with people trying to escape the unrest.

Extra bus services have been laid on and touts are charging up to five times the normal face price for tickets, AFP news agency reports.

XINJIANG: ETHNIC UNREST
Main ethnic division: 45% Uighur, 40% Han Chinese
26 June: Mass factory brawl after dispute between Han Chinese and Uighurs in Guangdong, southern China, leaves two Uighurs dead
5 July: Uighur protest in Urumqi over the dispute turns violent, leaving 156 dead - most of them thought to be Han - and more than 1,000 hurt
7 July: Uighur women protest at arrests of menfolk. Han Chinese make armed counter-march
8 July: President Hu Jintao returns from G8 summit to tackle crisis

"It is just too risky to stay here. We are scared of the violence," a 23-year-old construction worker from central China said.

Many are university students, who have been told to leave the city earlier than they might have planned.

The violence began on Sunday when Uighurs rallied to protest against a deadly brawl between Uighurs and Han Chinese several weeks ago in a toy factory in southern Guangdong province.

Officials say 156 people - mostly Han - died in Sunday's violence.

Ethnic Han vigilante groups have been threatening to take revenge, leaving many Uighurs afraid to leave their homes.

The atmosphere remains tense, with troops in place across the city and armed police surrounding Uighur neighbourhoods.

More than 1,400 people are thought to have been detained.

Tensions have been growing in Xinjiang for many years, as Han migrants have poured into the region, where the Uighur minority is concentrated.

Many Uighurs feel economic growth has bypassed them and complain of discrimination and diminished opportunities.


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