Death toll from China’s ethnic riots hits 184

China raised the death toll from riots in its Xinjiang region to 184,state media said Saturday,giving an ethnic breakdown of the dead for the first time.

Written by Associated Press | Urumqi | Published: July 11, 2009 1:22:43 pm

China raised the death toll from riots in its Xinjiang region to 184,state media said Saturday,giving an ethnic breakdown of the dead for the first time after communal violence broke out in this far western city.

The official Xinhua News Agency said 137 of the victims belonged to the dominant Han ethnic group. The rest included 45 men and one woman who were Uighurs,and one man of the Hui Muslim ethnic group,the report said,citing the information office of the regional government.

The previous death toll was 156. Xinhua gave no details on the newly reported deaths,including whether any were from Tuesday,when Han men seeking revenge for the original Uighur-led protest that turned violent marched through the streets with clubs and cleavers,trying to push past police guarding minority neighborhoods.

Nearly a week after the rioting began,paramilitary police carrying automatic weapons and riot shields blocked some roads leading to the largely Muslim Uighur district of the city Saturday,and groups of 30 marched along the road chanting slogans encouraging ethnic unity.

Some shops were still closed,and a police van blared public announcements in the Uighur language urging residents to oppose activist Rebiya Kadeer,a 62-year-old Uighur businesswoman who lives in exile in the U.S.,whom China says instigated the riots. She has denied it.

Protests continued Friday after a petite Muslim woman began complaining that the public washrooms were closed at a crowded mosque — the most important day of the week for Islamic worship. Muslims perform required ablutions,or washing,before prayer.

When a group gathered around her on the sidewalk,Madina Ahtam then railed against communist rule in Xinjiang.

The 26-year-old businesswoman eventually led the crowd of mostly men in a fist-pumping street march that was quickly blocked by riot police,some with automatic rifles pointed at the protesters.

Women have been on the front line in Urumqi partly because more than 1,400 men in the Muslim Uighur minority have been rounded up by police since ethnic rioting broke out July 5. As the communist government launches a sweeping security crackdown,the women have faced down troops,led protests and risked arrest by speaking out against police tactics they believe are excessive.

The violence came as the Uighurs were protesting the June 25 deaths of Uighur factory workers in a brawl in southern China. The crowd then scattered throughout Urumqi,attacking Han Chinese,burning cars and smashing windows.

Many Uighurs who are still free live in fear of being arrested for any act of dissent.

Thousands of Chinese troops have flooded into Urumqi to separate the feuding ethnic groups,and a senior Communist Party official vowed to execute those guilty of murder in the rioting.

A report in the Urumqi Evening News on Friday said police had caught 190 suspects in four raids the day before.

In many Uighur neighborhoods during the crisis in Urumqi,the women did much of the talking with reporters as the men gathered in small groups on street corners and in back alleys,speaking quietly among themselves.

“I can’t speak freely. The police could come any minute and haul me away,” said a Uighur man who would only identify himself as Alim.

But on Friday,some men challenged officials when they showed up for prayers at Urumqi’s popular White Mosque and found the gate closed. Officials had earlier said the mosque would be closed for public safety reasons as security forces tried to pacify the capital.

The mosque was eventually opened when the crowd swelled and there was a threat of unrest,police said.

Most Muslim Uighurs practice a moderate form of Sunni Islam or follow the mystical Sufism tradition. The women often work and lead an active social life outside the home. Many wear brightly colored head scarves but the custom is not strongly enforced. Young Uighur women often wear jeans,formfitting tops and dresses.

As the faithful streamed into the White Mosque,Ahtam arrived holding a lilac umbrella and told foreign reporters in broken English,”Toilet no open. No water.”

She led reporters to an area where the faithful are supposed to cleanse themselves before prayers and said with tears running down her cheeks,”Washing room not open. Everybody no wash.”

After the prayers,she continued speaking on the sidewalk and attracted about 40 people who applauded when she criticized the government.

“Every Uighur people are afraid. Do you understand? We are afraid. Chinese people are very happy. Why?” said Ahtam.

The government believes the Uighurs should be grateful for Xinjiang’s rapid economic development,which has brought new schools,highways,airports,railways,natural gas fields and oil wells in the sprawling,rugged Central Asian region,three times the size of Texas.

But many of the Turkic-speaking Uighurs,with a population of 9 million in Xinjiang,accuse the dominant Han ethnic group of discriminating against them and saving all the best jobs for themselves. Many also say the Communist Party is repressive and tries to snuff out their Islamic faith,language and culture.

As Ahtam’s crowd became more agitated,about 20 riot police with clubs marched toward the group. The Uighurs pumped their fists in the air and walked down the street with Ahtam leading the pack.

About 200 more riot police arrived and cut off the group,with some of the security forces kneeling down and pointing their automatic rifles at the marchers. Foreign reporters were led to a side alley,out of view of the protesters,who were forced to squat on the sidewalk along a row of shuttered shops.

Hours later,calls to Ahtam’s cell phone went unanswered and it was unknown what happened to her.

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