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China says recent Uighur unrest was premeditated

Police blame rioters in deaths

By Gillian Wong
Associated Press / July 20, 2009
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BEIJING - The Chinese government acknowledged for the first time that police killed 12 people during unrest in western China on July 5 but put the blame squarely on rioters, saying they stockpiled weapons and planned synchronized attacks on targets across the city of Urumqi.

But an expert on the situation in western China’s Xinjiang Province said such accusations should be treated with skepticism because they are Beijing’s attempt to distract people from the real issues upsetting ethnic minority Muslim Uighurs in the region.

The unrest began when a peaceful protest by Uighurs in Urumqi turned violent after police intervened. Uighurs went on a rampage in the city, smashing windows, burning cars, and beating Han Chinese, the nation’s dominant ethnic group. Two days after the first rioting, vigilante groups of ethnic Han took to the streets and attacked Uighurs.

The official Xinhua News Agency said late Saturday that the rioters appeared to have been well-organized, saying weapons were gathered in advance and that the agitation occurred all over the city. The report did not name individual sources nor offer concrete evidence. Government departments were either unreachable or refused comment.

The local public security department told Xinhua it received reports of attacks on people and property in more than 50 locations throughout Urumqi at 9 p.m. on July 5. Targets included the offices of the Xinjiang regional committee of the Communist Party, the public security and fire departments, and media organizations.

Xinhua cited the department as saying the rioters were mostly from outside Urumqi (pronounced uh-ROOM-chee), while businesses in the city reportedly said knives had been selling fast in the days leading up to the riot. It said residents believed stones used in the attacks were brought in from outside the city.

Meanwhile, Xinjiang Governor Nur Bekri said police shot the “mobsters’’ July 5 after first firing warning shots, according to a separate Xinhua report. He said three of them died on the spot, and nine died after treatment failed.

He did not say which ethnic group the “mobsters’’ belonged to.

“The police showed as much restraint as possible during the unrest,’’ Bekri was quoted as saying, adding that many police officers were injured and one was killed.