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China blames Xinjiang violence on outside forces
07-09-2009, 09:55 PM,
China blames Xinjiang violence on outside forces
China blames Xinjiang violence on outside forces
Published: July 9, 2009 at 4:11 PM

China's top leadership addressed the recent ethnic violence in the northwestern province of Xinjiang Wednesday, blaming overseas groups, promising "severe punishment" for instigators and calling stability the "most important and pressing task."

The emergency meeting of China's nine-member Politburo Standing Committee was chaired by President Hu Jintao, who cut short his visit to Italy for the G8 summit because of the seriousness of the situation.

Violence erupted Sunday in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, as Uighurs protested the treatment of Uighur migrant workers at a toy factory in Guangdong province in the south of China. Two people were killed and many injured in attacks by Han Chinese workers. The protesters believed the authorities had done little to bring the attackers to justice.

The violence left 156 dead and more than 1,000 injured. Officials have yet to release a breakdown of the deaths between Uighurs, Han Chinese and security forces. An official at Urumqi's largest hospital said that of 291 injured people treated, 233 were Han, 39 Uighur and 19 from other ethnic groups. The Uighurs are a Turkic people. Ten million of them live in Xinjiang, a region covering one-sixth of China's total area. They form 46 percent of Xinjiang's population and are predominantly Muslim.

After further violence Tuesday, as Han mobs counter-rioted, attacking Uighur businesses, a massive influx of security forces established a tense calm. Government sources said that 20,000 paramilitary police had been sent to the city, where their presence was highly visible Wednesday, backed by armored vehicles and military helicopters.

The Politburo meeting said the conflict had been organized by forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism at home and abroad, according to the state-run news agency, Xinhua. "Cadres and the public should stick to the principle that stability overrides everything," their statement said.

Xinhua also quoted government sources claiming they had evidence from mobile phone and Internet traffic linking Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uighur Association, to the riots. Kadeer, who currently resides in the United States after spending five years in prison in China, denied any role in the violence while condemning China's treatment of the Uighurs.

"We also condemn, in no uncertain terms, the violent actions of a number of Uyghur demonstrators that have been reported. We absolutely oppose violence in any form," she said in a recent statement.

A number of Uighur exile groups are opposed to China's treatment of the Uighur minority. Some of them have supported violent means. One, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, has been classified as a terrorist group by both the United States and China.

China's leadership has an obsessive concern with stability. Riots, whether ethnic or economic in origin, are to be isolated and suppressed as rapidly as possible. They represent a threat to China's economic development and, of course, the authority of the Chinese Communist Party. Yet they are on the rise. Between 1994 and 2005 "mass incidents," as they are labeled, grew from 10,000 to 87,000, according to the Ministry of Public Security. Many of these were rural riots sparked by economic hardship and corruption among local party leaders. The first priority for local party officials in the event of a riot is to prevent its spread into neighboring areas.

Where conflict is ethnic in origin, the government response is often to blame outside agitators while insisting that relations between the different groups are harmonious. Nur Bekri, the Xinjiang Region chairman, responded to the riots by saying on local TV that ethnic relations were "as solid as a rock."

Most Uighurs, and many Han, do not see it that way. Official denial of the problem may only be storing up more trouble for the future. Beijing has sought to alleviate the tensions by directing economic aid to the region, but many Uighurs see this benefitting the growing Han population. Living standards have risen, but so has unemployment among Uighurs and income disparity between Han and Uighur.

In 1949 the Han made up only 6 percent of Xinjiang's population. Today that figure is 40 percent as a result of consistent policies by the Communist Party to encourage Han migration to the region.

Uighurs believe that their freedom of religion is tightly controlled and that their culture is being eroded. Government policy is reducing the use of the Uighur language in education. In the 1990s Uighur was phased out as a language of instruction in higher education. In 2006 Chinese became the main language for preschool instruction.

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