Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Xinjiang calm on anniversary of deadly riots

From David McKenzie, CNN
July 5, 2013 -- Updated 0752 GMT (1552 HKT)
Paramilitary police have been out in force in Xinjiang's capital ahead of the 2009 riots anniversary. Paramilitary police have been out in force in Xinjiang's capital ahead of the 2009 riots anniversary.
HIDE CAPTION
Divided by ethnicity: China's restive west
Divided by ethnicity: China's restive west
Divided by ethnicity: China's restive west
<<
<
1
2
3
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China has deployed armed police in cities in Xinjiang in past week
  • July 5 marks 4th anniversary of deadly clashes in region that killed more than 200
  • Tensions fueled by increased number of Han Chinese moving to western region
  • Ethnic Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking, mainly Muslim ethnic group, complain of discrimination

Urumqi, China (CNN) -- Urumqi, the capital of China's far-western Xinjiang Province, was calm but definitely tense Friday, four years after violent clashes left hundreds dead and exposed deep ethnic rifts in the region.

In the days leading up to the anniversary, and in the wake of recent attacks that left 35 dead in Xinjiang, Chinese authorities have taken measures to thwart further unrest.

Paramilitary police in camouflaged fatigues with automatic weapons and riot gear have been stationed outside key points throughout the capital, including government buildings, banks and major intersections. While it is not unusual for there to be a visible police presence in a city known for past troubles, the number of armed troops on the streets has increased dramatically -- one main street next to a local theater in the city was backed up with a column of police trucks, armored personnel carriers and other riot-control vehicles.

Read: China ramps up security in Xinjiang

According to tourist operators and local residents, the government has also banned all night markets and non-tourist public events to avoid crowds gathering at this sensitive time.

Periodic bursts of violence are nothing new in Xinjiang, a resource-rich region of western China where the arrival of waves of Han Chinese people over the decades has fueled tensions with the Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking, predominantly Muslim ethnic group. Uyghurs have complained of discrimination and harsh treatment by security forces in Xinjiang, despite official promises of equal rights and ethnic harmony. In China as a whole, Han Chinese account for 92% of the population. They now make up about 40% of the population of Xinjiang, where Uyghurs used to be predominant.

The increasing frequency with which these incidents occur illustrates the PRC's reticence to address the root causes of the tensions that are escalating.
World Uyghur Congress

The violence last Wednesday -- when police stations were attacked by a mob in the remote township of Lukqun, about 250 kilometers southeast of Urumqi -- was the worst the region has seen since 2009, when rioting between the two ethnic groups left around 200 people dead and 1,700 injured in Urumqi. This followed clashes in April when 21 people were killed in Xinjiang's Kashgar prefecture.

The government has blamed recent attacks on "gangsters" and "religious extremists" who they claim have links to foreign jihadi groups. But many scholars and Uyghur diaspora groups dispute this official interpretation. "The increasing frequency with which these incidents occur illustrates the PRC's reticence to address the root causes of the tensions that are escalating," said the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), a Germany-based Uyghur advocacy group. It used an abbreviation of People's Republic of China to describe China.

Meanwhile, Chinese state media has widely reported on other measures taken by local authorities to curb further unrest ahead of Friday's anniversary. The local public security department in Xinjiang has offered a 50,000 to 100,000-Yuan (US$8,162 to 16,319) reward for information regarding what they called "separatist activities," the China Daily reported. It also released a wanted list of 11 suspects, encouraging residents to provide information. Police also called on the public to hand in any "dangerous knives, explosives and propaganda materials on terrorism or violent crimes" they may have -- police officers in Urumqi were actually registering knives this week, with blades more than 8 inches confiscated.

"I can't display anything longer than this," said one local merchant who had just been registered by police.

Rumors have also been rife in this city before and during the July 5 anniversary. Uyghur restaurants are struggling to get Han customers at times because of rumors that they could be looking to poison their customers. In the center of the capital, street vendors say domestic tourist numbers, normally at their peak at this time of year, are dramatically down because of the fear of attacks.

But despite the heavy police presence and the rumors, the city continues to function. Though the Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar, a major tourist attraction, was largely quiet this week, other shopping streets teemed with locals bargaining for a range of products, from scarves to fruit. They didn't seem to pay much attention to the paramilitary police units who now patrol 24 hours a day -- some Han Chinese tourists were even taking photos of the patrols.

But this remains a divided city. Uyghurs and Han Chinese generally frequent different shops, live in different neighborhoods and go to different schools. But most people seem reluctant to speak about these divisions, a sign perhaps of the tightening grip the security forces have over this remote city.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
Chinese students show a handmade red ribbon one day ahead of the the World AIDS Day, at a school in Hanshan, east China's Anhui province on November 30, 2009.
Over 200 Chinese villagers in Sichuan province have signed a petition to banish a HIV-positive eight-year-old boy, state media reported.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
A Chinese couple allegedly threw hot water on a flight attendant and threatened to blow up the plane, forcing the Nanjing-bound plane to turn back to Bangkok.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 0503 GMT (1303 HKT)
China's 1.3 billion citizens may soon find it much harder to belt out their national anthem at will.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 0021 GMT (0821 HKT)
Like Beijing today, Los Angeles in the last century went through its own smog crisis. The city's mayor says LA's experience delivers valuable lessons.
December 6, 2014 -- Updated 0542 GMT (1342 HKT)
At the height of his power, Zhou Yongkang controlled China's police, spy agencies and courts. Now, he's under arrest.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0826 GMT (1626 HKT)
China says it will end organ transplants from executed prisoners but tradition means that donors are unlikely to make up the shortfall.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0648 GMT (1448 HKT)
China's skylines could look a lot more uniform in the years to come, if a statement by a top Beijing official is to believed.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 0855 GMT (1655 HKT)
Despite an anti-corruption drive, China's position on an international corruption index has deteriorated in the past 12 months.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
A daring cross-border raid by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's associates has -- so far -- yet to sour Sino-Russian relations.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0051 GMT (0851 HKT)
A 24-hour Taipei bookstore is a hangout for hipsters as well as bookworms.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0153 GMT (0953 HKT)
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
North Korean refugees face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.
ADVERTISEMENT