Chinese police shot dead 12 “mobsters” during unrest in Urumqi on July 5, state media reported on Sunday, quoting a local official saying the action was taken to prevent further bloodshed.
Three died on the spot and nine after unsuccessful treatment, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing the chairman of the regional Xinjiang government.
The report did not give details of the ethnicity of the deceased or those involved in the unrest, but blame for the violence in the Xinjiang regional capital that day was previously pinned on ethnic minority Uighurs.
Chinese authorities had said the “riot” on July 5 left 192 people dead, most from China’s dominant ethnic group, the Han, but Xinhua’s report said the death toll now stood at 197 -- “most of them were innocent residents”.
“The police showed as much restraint as possible during the unrest,” chairman Nur Bekri was quoted saying, adding police had initially fired shots into the air but that had failed to disperse “extremely vicious” thugs.
The Uighurs, many of whom have complained of repression under China’s 60-year rule in the huge mountainous region of Xinjiang, have accused Chinese forces of opening fire on peaceful protests.
Thousands of Han Chinese went on the rampage in the following days, arming themselves with makeshift weapons and marching through Urumqi vowing vengeance against the Uighurs in some of the worst ethnic violence in China in decades.
The Xinhua report made no mention of ethnic violence and said the unrest had initially started as a “student parade”.
“Nur Bekri admitted that they had never expected a student parade could turn into such ferocious violence,” the report said, quoting him as saying Saturday that “the mobsters were so extremely vicious and inhumane.”