Western China rioting death toll increases to about 20

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REPORTING FROM BEIJING -- The death toll from riots in western China rose to about 20 as new details emerged of the Tuesday night incident that may shape up to be the deadliest ethnic violence here since the summer.

The fighting took place in Yecheng, a Silk Road oasis town that is about 150 miles from the border with Pakistan. Although details are only slowly emerging, and even then in a contradictory fashion, it appears that police might have been the target.

‘Nine terrorists suddenly ran up to innocent people and began stabbing them, which resulted in 13 deaths and many injuries,’ reported Tianshannet, a website run by the local government. ‘Local policemen acted immediately, arrested two and shot seven violent terrorists on the spot.’

The attack took place on Xinfu Road, a busy thoroughfare near the county seat.


The death toll is the highest since a spate of riots last summer in Kasghar and Hotan, two larger cities to the north and south, respectively, of Yecheng.

The area, in the Xinjiang region, traditionally is populated by Uighurs, who are Muslims and speak a language closer to Turkish than Chinese. Resentments are growing over the increasing migration of the majority Han Chinese into Xinjiang, where Uighurs fear they are being squeezed out and deprived of job opportunities.

Dilxadi Rexiti, a spokesman in Sweden for the World Uighur Congress, an exile group, said that seven of those killed were police officers. He said there had been tensions between the police and local Uighurs because of a 100-day campaign to round up criminals that started in late December.

‘The police were given quotas and got awards for arresting people. They were arresting Uighurs for no reason and that was aggravating the tensions,’ Rexiti said.

Roads around Yecheng were patrolled with checkpoints and more than 80 Uighur men were reported to have been arrested.

After riots in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi in 2009 killed more than 200 people, China replaced the unpopular Communist Party chief, Wang Lequan. But his replacement, Zhang Chunxian, has not been much more successful in quelling unrest.


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-- Barbara Demick