Deadly riots in the remote northwestern province of Xinjiang have left at least 140 dead, Chinese officials say. The unrest is the deadliest outbreak of violence in years in a region where ethnic tensions between the Muslim Uighur community and China's Han majority are never far from the surface.
At least 140 people were killed and over 800 injured during riots by ethnic Muslims in Xinjiang on Sunday in the bloodiest clashes seen in the northern Chinese province in years.
A demonstration of between 1,000 and 3,000 Uighurs in the regional capital Urumqi descended into violence, marking the deadliest unrest to hit the volatile region in a decade. According to the state news agency Xinhua, the death toll "was still climbing."
The protestors had gathered to demand justice for two Uighurs killed last month in a fight with Han Chinese co-workers in a factory in southern China. The exact sequence of events is unclear, but media and eyewitness accounts indicate that some of the crowd refused to disperse and began to attack vehicles and houses and clash with the police. State television broadcast footage of protestors attacking and kicking people on the ground.
According to the Chinese authorities, 260 cars were attacked or set on fire and 203 homes were damaged. A police spokesman told Xinhua that 90 suspects were being sought and that several hundred had been arrested.
A Pattern of Protest and Repression
Ethnic tensions between the Muslim Uighurs and the Han Chinese have long been a problem in the remote province, which borders both Pakistan and Afghanistan and is rich in minerals and natural resources. The province is home to 19.6 million people, around 8 million of whom are Uighurs. The Chinese state began to settle the region with Han Chinese in 1955 and they now account for around 40 percent of the population.
Sunday's violence is part of a pattern of protest, violence and repression in Xinjiang. In 1990, a crackdown on a protest by around 200 Uighurs in the town of Baren left two dozen people dead. In 1997, amid a wave of bombings and assassinations, another protest in the city of Ying against religious restrictions turned into an anti-Chinese uprising resulting in at least 10 deaths. In both case the separatist groups said that the death tolls were actually much higher. According to Amnesty International over 3,000 Uighurs have been arrested and 200 executed since the mid-1990s.
Four Uighur detainees held at the US military detention center in Guantanamo were recently released and relocated to Bermuda out of fears in Washington that if the men were returned to China they would be executed. Germany, home to a considerable Uighur exile community, has so far refused to accept any of the Chinese Muslim detainees, despite the fact that Munich is home to the largest Uighur population in Europe.