Security Remains High in Urumqi July 9, 2009 ¡@
Tensions are overflowing in the streets of Urumqi with several violent attacks Wednesday. Anger is high on both sides of the ethnic divide between Han and Uighur groups after the most violent riots in decades. ¡@
New York Times
By EDWARD WONG
July 7, 2009
URUMQI, China ¡X For a second successive day, rival protesters took to the streets here on Tuesday, defying Chinese government efforts to lock down this regional capital of 2.3 million people and other cities across its western desert region after bloody clashes between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese. Thousands of angry Han Chinese armed with poles, meat cleavers and other makeshift weapons stormed through Urumqi, shouting anti-Uighur slogans. ¡@
The fighting, which erupted Sunday evening, left at least 156 people dead and more than 1,000 injured (on July 13, the casualties are updated to at least 184 people dead and more than 1600 injured), according to the state news agency.
Chinese Violence Sparks Protests in Tokyo and Sydney ¡@
Police fired tear gas on Tuesday at Han Chinese protesters armed with clubs, lead pipes, shovels and hoes, news reports said. Earlier, in an attempt to contain China¡¦s worst ethnic violence in decades, the authorities imposed curfews, cut off cellphone and Internet services and sent armed police officers into neighborhoods.
> But hundreds of Uighur protesters defied the police, crashing a state-run tour of the riot scene for foreign and Chinese journalists.
A wailing crowd of women, joined later by scores of Uighur men, marched down a wide avenue Tuesday with raised fists and tearfully demanded that the police release Uighur men who they said had been seized from their homes after Sunday¡¦s violence. Some women waved the identification cards of men who had been detained. ¡@
As journalists watched, the demonstrators smashed the windshield of a police car and several police officers drew their pistols before the entire crowd was encircled by officers and paramilitary troops in riot gear.
¡§A lot of ordinary people were taken away by the police,¡¨ a protester named Qimanguli, a 13-year-old girl clad in a white T-shirt and a black headscarf, said, crying. She said her 19-year-old brother had been detained on Monday, long after the riots had ended.
The initial confrontation later ebbed to a tense standoff between about 100 protesters, mostly women, some carrying infants, and riot police in black body armor and helmets, tear-gas launchers at the ready, in a Uighur neighborhood pocked with burned-out homes and an automobile sales lot torched during the Sunday riots.
But soon afterward, news reports said, hundreds of Han Chinese threw rocks and smashed shops owned by Uighurs, ignoring police who appealed to them over loudspeakers to disperse. At one point, some 300 Han Chinese marchers seemed to be heading toward a mosque, only to face clouds of tear gas, news reports said.
The bloodshed here, along with the Tibetan uprising last year, shows the extent of racial hostility that still pervades much of western China, fueled partly by economic disparity and by government attempts to restrict religious and political activity by minority groups.
The rioting, which began as a peaceful protest calling for a full government inquiry into an earlier brawl between Uighurs and Han Chinese at a factory in southern China, took place in the heart of East Turkistan, an oil-rich desert region where Uighurs are the largest ethnic group but are ruled by the Han, the dominant ethnic group in the country.
Protests spread Monday to the heavily guarded town of Kashgar, on China¡¦s western border, as 200 to 300 people chanting ¡§God is great¡¨ and ¡§Release the people¡¨ confronted riot police officers about 5:30 p.m. in front of the city¡¦s yellow-walled Id Kah Mosque, the largest mosque in China. They quickly dispersed when officers began arresting people, one resident said.
Internet social platforms and chat programs appeared to have unified Uighurs in anger over the way Chinese officials had handled the earlier brawl, which took place in late June thousands of miles away in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province. There, Han workers rampaged through a Uighur dormitory, killing at least two Uighurs and injuring many others, according to the state news agency, Xinhua. Police officers later arrested a resentful former factory worker who had ignited the fight by spreading a rumor that six Uighur men had raped two Han women at the site, Xinhua reported.
But photographs that appeared online after the battle showed people standing around a pile of corpses, leading many Uighurs to believe that the government was playing down the number of dead Uighurs. One Uighur student said the photographs began showing up on many Web sites about one week ago. Government censors repeatedly tried to delete them, but to no avail, he said.
¡§Uighurs posted it again and again in order to let more people know the truth, because how painful is it that the government does bald-faced injustice to Uighur people?¡¨ said the student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the government.
A call for protests spread on Web sites and QQ, the most popular instant-messaging program in China, despite government efforts to block online discussion of the feud.
By Tuesday morning, more than 36 hours after the start of the protest, the police had detained more than 1,400 suspects, according to Xinhua. More than 200 shops and 14 homes had been destroyed in Urumqi, and 261 motor vehicles, mostly buses, had been burned, Xinhua reported, citing Liu Yaohua, the regional police chief.
Police officers operated checkpoints on roads throughout East Turkistan on
Monday. People at major hotels said they had no Internet access. Most people in
the city could not use cellphones.
At the local airport, five scrawny, young men wearing black, bulletproof vests and helmets stood outside the terminal, holding batons. The roadways leading into the city center were empty early on Tuesday, except for parked squad cars and clusters of armored personnel carriers and olive military trucks brimming with paramilitary troops. An all-night curfew had been imposed.
Residents described the central bazaar in the Uighur enclave, where much of the rioting took place, as littered with the charred hulks of buses and cars. An American teacher in Urumqi, Adam Grode, and another foreigner said they had heard gunfire long after nightfall Sunday.
Xinhua did not give a breakdown of the 156 deaths, and it was unclear how many of them were protesters and how many were other civilians or police officers. There were no independent estimates of the number of the death toll. At least 1,000 people were described as having protested.
Photographs online and video on state television showed injured people lying in the streets, not far from overturned vehicles that had been set ablaze. Government officials gave journalists in Urumqi a disc with a video showing bodies strewn in the streets.
The officials also released a statement that laid the blame directly on Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur businesswoman and human rights advocate who had been imprisoned in China and now lives in Washington. It said the World Uighur Congress, a group led by ¡§the splittist¡¨ Ms. Kadeer, ¡§directly ignited, plotted and directed the violence using the Shaoguan incident in Guangdong.¡¨ The statement said bloggers first began calling for the protest on Saturday night and also used QQ and online bulletin boards to organize a rally at People¡¦s Square and South Gate in the Uighur quarter of Urumqi.
The World Uighur Congress rejected the accusations and said that it condemned ¡§in the strongest possible terms the brutal crackdown of a peaceful protest of young Uighurs.¡¨ The group said in a statement on Monday that Uighurs had been subject to reprisals not only from Chinese security forces but also from Han Chinese civilians who attacked homes, workplaces or dormitories after the riots on Monday.
The violence on Sunday dwarfed in scale assaults on security forces last year in East Turkistan. It was deadlier, too, than any of the bombings, riots and protests that swept through the region in the 1990s and that led to a government clampdown.
Uighurs make up about half of the 20 million people in East Turkistan but are a minority in Urumqi, where Han Chinese dominate. The Chinese government has encouraged Han migration to many parts of East Turkistan, and Uighurs say that the Han tend to get the better jobs in Urumqi. The government also maintains tight control on the practice of Islam, which many Uighurs cite as a source of frustration.
But an ethnic Han woman who lives in an apartment near the central bazaar said in a telephone interview that the government should show no sympathy toward the malcontents.
¡§What they should do is crack down with a lot of force at first, so the
situation doesn¡¦t get worse, so it doesn¡¦t drag out like in Tibet,¡¨ she said
after insisting on anonymity. ¡§Their mind is very simple. If you crack down on
one, you¡¦ll scare all of them. The government should come down harder.¡¨
¡@ Last weekend's riots in Urumqi, the capital of East Turkistan, represented the worst ethnic tension in China since marches by monks sparked anti-Chinese riots in Tibet last spring: 156 people died, at least 828 were injured, 261 buses and cars were torched, and 203 shops and 14 homes were burned down. East Turkistan's violence seems to have begun with a police crackdown on ethnic minority Muslim Uighurs protesting for justice on behalf of two Uighurs killed in a factory brawl in southern China. Even by the dubious official numbers, the death toll in Urumqi dwarfed last year's toll (22) in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Police have detained at least 1,434 people since Sunday, and there are 20,000 security forces patrolling Urumqi's streets today.
Crisis? What crisis? For perhaps the first time, China is managing the PR with aplomb. It moved just as swiftly to justify its crackdown as it did to deploy the crackdown itself. Party officials know that the riots risk tarnishing China's global image the way Lhasa did, so they have undertaken a swift program of public relations, getting the official version of the story out fast and busing in foreign journalists to visit the riot-torn city center. The Chinese are suddenly looking like credible spin doctors.
This is another step in the learning curve for the ruling Chinese Communist Party, accustomed to the one-party state privilege of going relatively unquestioned. Internet and mobile phones have made full news blackouts like after the 1976 Tangshan earthquake¡Xor the 1997 riots and shootings in Yili (also in East Turkistan)¡Ximpossible, so the CCP has been forced to learn spin.
That's not to say news blackouts aren't in force. To contain the damage to its reputation, China's government has adopted a twin-track strategy with opposite treatment for old and new media. It swiftly shut off the Internet and mobile phones on Sunday to control news and imagery seeping out, while feeding the press and TV with pictures and information. Web connections were still unavailable late Tuesday in East Turkistan; mobile signals and texting services remained intermittent. Twitter has been blocked, too.
These measures are harsher than during the Lhasa riots, where residents remained able to speak to the outside world, though many were too fearful to say much. The contrast reflects East Turkistan's higher level of development and the government's greater anxiety, says Prof. Xiao Qiang at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. "Urumqi is a very wired city. ¡K [If] the government want[s] to control this information, they have no choice" but to enforce a blackout, he says.
Unlike Tibet last year, the riot area remains open to foreign journalists, a sign that Beijing has learned media-management lessons from the globally hostile coverage it got for barring reporters in Tibet. The day after the Urumqi bloodshed, the State Council Information Office set up a so-called "Xinjiang" Information Office in Urumqi to assist foreign reporters. It went further, inviting foreign media on a trip to East Turkistan to tour the riot zones, visit hospitals, and see the damage for themselves. Journalists were given CDs loaded with photos and TV clips. "They try to control the foreign journalists as much as possible by using this more sophisticated PR work rather than ban[ning] them," says Xiao.
Like Tibet, the presence of foreign reporters triggered a brave protest staged for their cameras. A group of about 200 women surged out of a market demanding the release of detained male relatives. For a moment, violence looked inevitable, but security forces stepped back. It was reminiscent of events in the Jorkang Temple in Lhasa when weeping monks burst in on the foreign press. Whatever the cost to the demonstrators, an unscripted moment was still a major embarrassment for the government.
Beijing has also used the Lhasa experience as a template to shape the message to its main audience, which is domestic. Official media depicts the rioters as thugs rather than people with political grievances. The approach is first to accuse a foreign-based exile group (in this case, the World Uighur Council) of inciting unrest and second to highlight the brutal violence between the region's two main ethnic groups¡XUighurs, who make up half of East Turkistan's population and speak a Turkic language, and China's national majority, the Han. At the same time, state media ignores the role of the security forces in the body count.
Journalists on hospital visits have been shown Han Chinese with serious head wounds from beatings, and also Uighurs with bullet wounds. Yet the official Xinhua news agency's coverage has given most of its coverage to beatings of Han Chinese by Uighur rioters, such as taxi driver Zhao, who says he was assaulted by a baton-waving crowd of 20 who "beat me badly." The president of the People's Hospital said 233 of the 291 victims taken there were Han Chinese, while 39 were Uighur and some were from other minorities, according to Xinhua. The presence of Hui Muslims, another ethnic minority, among the victims highlights Muslim-on-Muslim violence, a tactic that could limit sympathy for Uighur separatists and undermine the claims of rights groups in the Arab world.
Another tried-and-true technique follows the script used in Tibet: Beijing has blamed exiled businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer for the violence. Kadeer, who heads a Washington-based confederation of exile organizations scattered through the U.S., Germany, Britain, and Australia, denies involvement. The provincial government has said "violence ¡K was instigated and directed from abroad, and carried out by outlaws in the country." Similar florid language was applied to the Dalai Lama after the Lhasa riots; he was described as a "jackal in monk's robes." The official media "is very unified," says Xiao. "They all point to Rebiya Kadeer, they all have the same narrative, there's no independent reporting¡Xit's a very highly controlled version of the story."
A final piece of spin targets the Uighur population directly and hints that the CCP feels it needs to address Uighur grievances. The Urumqi riot began when Uighur factory workers thousands of miles away in Guangdong province were falsely accused of raping Han women by a disgruntled former workmate. A fight broke out, killing two Uighurs and injuring more than 100. Since Urumqi's protest erupted, the government's Uighur-language TV channel has carried a statement from the China-controlled Xinjiang provincial government's puppet chairman Nur Bekri promising "strenuous efforts" to investigate the killings in Guangdong. On Tuesday, Xinhua also reported 13 arrests over the false allegations. This attempt at redress segments the message. Awareness of local grievances is aired on regional TV in the Uighur language, while the wider message of Uighur thuggery plays to a receptive national audience. Prejudice against Uighurs often portrays them as violent criminals. "There's this stereotype of Uighurs, that they're thieves or ¡K involved in the drug trade," says Prof. Barry Sautman, a specialist on China's ethnic policies at Hong Kong's Science and Technology University.
To be sure, the CCP can't answer every uncomfortable development. Whereas the Dalai Lama has raised Tibet's profile over many years, the East Turkistan's riots threaten to highlight a previously obscure ethnic issue. Critics of China's treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority had already made headway in the U.S., which is still searching for a country willing to accept 14 Uighurs released from Guantanamo Bay. (U.S. judges agreed with the detainees' lawyers that they risked execution if sent back to China, where the courts deal harshly with anyone suspected of opposing Beijing's rule over East Turkistan, whose 10 million Uighurs make up half the region's population and speak a language close to Turkish.) With 1,434 fresh Uighur detainees, China puts itself back in the cross hairs of international human-rights groups. Beijing may have learned spin doctoring, but it's unlikely to buy the adage that there's no such thing as bad press.