China bans Friday prayers at mosques in Xinjiang

Chinese authorities banned prayer gatherings at mosques here on Friday,the principal day of prayer for Muslims....

Written by New York Times | Urumqi | Published: July 11, 2009 3:49:38 am

Chinese authorities banned prayer gatherings at mosques here on Friday,the principal day of prayer for Muslims,as security officials tried to prevent further ethnic violence in Xinjiang.

But officials appeared to partially relax the ban on Friday afternoon,allowing shortened prayer services after hundreds of Uighur worshippers gathered outside at least two of Urumqi’s main mosques,news agencies reported.

A small group of about 40 Uighur men and women began a protest march after prayers ended Friday,but they were quickly blocked by police forces,the Associated Press reported. Officials announced a curfew would be reimposed on the city Friday evening.

Meanwhile,in another Xinjiang city,the ancient Silk Road oasis town of Kashgar,foreign journalists and other visitors were instructed to leave.

Strictly enforced security was clearly high on the Government’s agenda,and the Communist Party’s official news paper People’s Daily said in an editorial on Friday that “to maintain social stability,we need to isolate and crack down hard on a handful of people”. The paper said those who “masterminded,organised and committed serious violence during the riot” should be targeted.

At least 156 people were killed in three days of rioting and unrest that began on Sunday in Urumqi,the region’s capital. More than 1,000 were reported injured.

The People’s Daily editorial echoed the remarks of President Hu Jintao,who cut short a visit to the G-8 summit meeting in Italy. In a statement issued along with the Communist Party’s senior leaders,Hu called on the authorities to “isolate and deal a blow to the small group” who had a hand in the bloodshed.

Urumqi appeared to be settling into an uneasy calm,and the ban on Friday prayers apparently was aimed at preventing large gatherings of Uighurs at the city’s mosques. It was not clear if similar prayer bans were in force elsewhere in Xinjiang on Friday.

As many as 20,000 troops from nearby regions had poured into Urumqi after the rioting began,forming cordons between ethnic Uighur neighbourhoods and those dominated by Han Chinese,who had earlier gone on a revenge spree against Uighur residents.

Since the turmoil began on Sunday,China has accused Rebiya Kadeer,an exiled Uighur leader,of fomenting the strife. Kadeer,who lives in Washington DC,has denied the charge.

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