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China raises Xinjiang death toll to 184

China on Saturday raised the death toll from unrest between Han Chinese and Muslim Uighurs to 184, as riot police and armed soldiers maintained a firm grip on the flashpoint city of Urumqi.

world Updated: Jul 11, 2009 21:53 IST

China on Saturday raised the death toll from unrest between Han Chinese and Muslim Uighurs to 184, as riot police and armed soldiers maintained a firm grip on the flashpoint city of Urumqi.

International concern about the worst ethnic violence to hit China for decades continued, with Turkey voicing the most alarm by labelling the plight of the Uighurs “a kind of genocide”.

A Uighur group on Saturday also called on the European Union to send observers to Xinjiang.

China has sought to limit the debate over the unrest to the initial violence on Sunday, which saw thousands of Uighurs take to the streets in Urumqi amid frustration over what they say has been decades of repressive Chinese rule.

The death toll from Sunday’s violence in the capital of China’s remote northwest Xinjiang region was 184, a regional government official said Saturday, up from a previous tally of 156.

Giving the first breakdown of victims, Xinhua reported that 137 of the dead were Han, China’s dominant ethnic group, 46 were Uighur and the other was a man from the Muslim Hui minority.

Uighurs rampaged through the streets and attacked Han Chinese during the unrest, according to victims and witnesses AFP spoke with here and graphic footage broadcast by China’s state-run television.

Exiled Uighur leaders insist Sunday’s protests were peaceful until security forces over-reacted with deadly force, and that further deaths have occurred following Sunday’s unrest.

The Uighur World Congress condemned what it called “the brutal crackdown by China”, calling on the European Union to send observers to Xinjiang.

Han Chinese took to the streets of Urumqi early in the week wielding knives, poles, meat cleavers and other makeshift weapons vowing vengeance against the Uighurs.

AFP witnessed Han Chinese mobs assaulting two Uighurs in separate attacks, and Uighurs alleged many other beatings took place despite a huge security presence.

The leader of the exiled community, Washington-based Rebiya Kadeer, on Friday said thousands of people may have died across Xinjiang, a vast region that crosses into Central Asia and makes up one sixth of China’s territory.

Aside from Urumqi, there had also been “mob killings in different cities such as Kashgar”.

Foreign reporters were on Friday banned from reporting in Kashgar, the famed Old Silk Road city about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from Urumqi, with authorities citing safety concerns.

Before being ordered out of the city, an AFP reporter witnessed a heavy security presence with at least 2,000 soldiers and riot police in and around the city centre and near the ancient Id Kah mosque.

And while China has said 1,434 people were detained for their involvement in Sunday’s “riot”, Kadeer estimated that as many as 5,000 people had been imprisoned in a massive security sweep.

On Saturday, riot police and soldiers continued to saturate Urumqi, according to an AFP reporter, and some Uighurs remained in hiding to avoid being caught up in the clampdown or attacked.

One Uighur businessman, who did not want to be named, said several of his staff were sleeping at his workplace.

“Some of them don’t want to go home because they are afraid they will be arrested,” he told AFP.

Halisha, an eye doctor who works in the Uighur part of Urumqi, said he was terrified to return to his home in an area mainly populated by Han Chinese.

“I am afraid of getting beaten because there have been a lot of Uighurs beaten up there,” the 30-year-old Uighur told AFP after six nights staying at his employer’s clinic.

Turkey has been the most outspoken critic of China’s handling of the situation, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday stepping up his criticism.

“The event taking place in China is a kind of genocide,” Erdogan told reporters in Turkey after returning from the G8 summit of industrialised nations in Italy.

Xinjiang’s eight million Uighurs are Turkic speaking and have far closer cultural links with people from neighbouring Central Asian nations than Han Chinese.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference had earlier condemned the “disproportionate” use of force in Xinjiang.

The Uighur World Congress said in a statement sent to AFP Saturday: “We are alarmed that more casualties will happen and therefore appeal to the European Union and her chairman country Sweden to send observers to the area in order to stop the brutal crackdown.”