Violence hit the capital of the Chinese region of Xinjiang once again on Tuesday as thousands of angry Han Chinese rampaged through Urumqi, many smashing up Uighur stores and seeking vengeance for Han deaths at the weekend.
The authorities imposed a curfew to quell what the government has described as the worst riots since the foundation of the People’s Republic 60 years ago.
Police attempted to disperse the mob with teargas as they headed towards a predominantly Uighur area, but many were still on the streets armed with whatever came to hand: wooden staves, iron bars, chains, numchuks, shovels and axes.
Rioters smashed Uighur restaurants, threw rocks at a mosque and threatened residents, although moderates in the crowd attempted to restrain them.
“They attacked us. Now it’s our turn to attack them,” one protester told Reuters. Another said: “We’re here to demand security for ourselves. They killed children in cold blood.”
At least 156 people have been killed and more than 1,000 injured since ethnic clashes broke out at the weekend.
Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, called for “great restraint” on all sides “so as not to spark further violence and loss of life”.
Crowd members today told the Guardian that they believed Uighurs were coming back to attack them. A middle-class woman carried a plank with a nail sticking out of it; a young woman in a colourful, patterned top and white diamante mules clutched a piece of metal pipe. “We just want to defend our stuff,” said one man.
Witnesses told Reuters that earlier in the day groups of around 10 Uighur men armed with bricks and knives had attacked Han Chinese passersby and shop owners until police arrived. “They were using everything for weapons, like bricks, sticks and cleavers,” said Ma, an employee at a nearby fastfood restaurant.
“Whenever the rioters saw someone on the street, they would ask ‘are you a Uighur?’ If they kept silent or couldn’t answer in the Uighur language, they would get beaten or killed,” Ma added.
Journalists who tried to follow the crowd were bundled away from the scene “for their own safety”, as protesters turned angrily on some cameramen, shoving and shouting at them. Banks closed their doors and staff crouched inside, some holding staves, while hotel staff taped up windows.
Elsewhere, officers pleaded with gangs to go home. One told protesters holding wooden and metal bars: “Please stand away. We are a nation united.”
A man replied: “Our brothers and sisters have been bloodied.” Another officer told the mob: “We need to protect the law. Please retreat. Please trust us.”