Where: Urumqi, Xinjiang,China
July 8, 2009 : Clashes broke out between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, on Sunday, July 5, 2009. Over 150 people were killed in clashes, nearly 1,000 were injured, and hundreds were arrested. By Tuesday morning, it looked as if the authorities had Urumqi under control. But gangs of Han Chinese armed with sticks and bars began to form and they poured down the streets towards the Great Bazaar, the town’s Uighur trading quarter. The Han Chinese appeared angry at the failure of security forces to protect their community on Sunday.
Hu Jintao, China’s president, rushed home from Italy where he had gone to attend the Group of Eight (G-8)summit. Chinese officials feel that Ms Rebiya Kadeer, an exiled Uighur leader, is responsible for encouraging the violence and protests. The Xinjiang riots are very disturbing for the Chinese government, as they could provoke similar reactions among other minority groups with complaints like those of the Uighurs. Most Uighurs feel they have suffered political, cultural and religious persecution. Like the people of Tibet, they complain about the majority Han Chinese moving into their province and dominating economic and political life.
Xinjiang is an autonomous region in China. It is a sparsely populated area which takes up about one sixth of the country’s territory. It is home to a number of different ethnic groups, and the largest of these is the Uighurs. There are around eight million of these Turkic-speaking people who have closer cultural links to the neighbouring countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan than with the Han Chinese. The riots in Xinjiang have produced a strong reaction in Kazakhstan, which is home to almost 300,000 Uighurs. Many of them have settled there after they fled from persecution in China over the past 40 years.