Two Shot Dead in Urumqi: Accounts Vary Widely

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Two Uighur men were shot dead by police yesterday in Urumqi. Unfortunately, as the South China Morning Post story reproduced here in full (it’s behind a paywall) after the jump lays out, the official account is at wide variance with what reporters and other witnesses saw. Having allowed reporters fairly open access to Urumqi in the aftermath of the riot and then published surprisingly detailed casualty figures, it appears the authorities are reverting to old habits of heavily massaging the news, something that as the Post story points out, can only encourage the many questions that remain about what actually happened the night of July 5th and in subsequent days. Two big questions that remain unaddressed are: First, were any rioters shot the night of the Uighur attacks on Hans. The authorities have not reported any gunshot wounds prior to this incident. If not, then how was the rioting stopped? Secondly, how many Uighurs died (continue to die?) in revenge attacks by Han ?

Will Clem and Choi Chi-yuk in Urumqi Jul 14, 2009

Police in Urumqi shot dead two Uygurs and wounded a third yesterday, further straining the fragile peace that has been restored in the week since the city was wracked by the nation’s worst ethnic violence in decades. The incident – the first confirmed clash since a riot police officer was stabbed on Friday – brought a heavy police response, with hundreds of riot police and soldiers blocking off streets and effectively closing off a largely Uygur-inhabited district. It was also the first time the government admitted to shooting anyone since the ethnic unrest erupted on July 5, despite claims to the contrary by exiled Uygur groups.

An official statement released last night said the shooting happened at 2.55pm when police on patrol tried to stop three Uygur men who were attacking a fourth with long knives and wooden clubs. Police encountered resistance when they tried to stop the fight, the statement said. “The police fired warning shots before shooting at the three suspects.”

One witness, Zhang Ming, a worker at a nearby building site, gave a different account. He said he saw three men with knives come out of a mosque and attack a group of paramilitary police standing in a cluster in the road. Police then chased the men, beat them and fired shots. Photos taken at the time show one man being chased by police, with one officer raising his rifle to strike the man. Another shows the man lying on the ground, as police form a ring around him, pointing their guns up at surrounding buildings.

The official account did not mention any wounding of police officers, despite the fact that journalists saw ambulance workers tending to a riot police officer who was bleeding profusely from an abdominal wound. Nor did it refer to a siege by security forces at a hospital that was witnessed by hundreds of onlookers, or the massive security operation following the incident. Security forces armed with semi-automatic rifles and supported by armoured personnel carriers lay siege to the unfinished wing of a maternity hospital where witnesses said one unarmed suspect had taken refuge.

“I saw one Uygur being chased by police. He ran into the building to hide,” said a Uygur onlooker who identified himself as Anwar. “The man didn’t look armed. He had nothing in his hands.”

A Post reporter was removed from the scene as police moved to clear the area of journalists just as staff were being taken away from the hospital before security forces went in.┬áReporters were told the action was due to safety concerns, but large crowds of both Han and Uygur onlookers were allowed to remain. “I cannot allow you to interview Uygurs on the street in case you are attacked,” an officer told the Post.

Other witness accounts suggested that clashes had occurred involving both Uygur and Han. One person told the South China Morning Post that he had seen four injured Han civilians. However, the man, who refused to give his name, said he had not seen how the four had sustained their wounds.

Despite the uneasy stability brought by the estimated 10,000 troops and riot police on the streets of the Xinjiang capital, ethnic tensions remain close to breaking point. Yesterday’s violence adds weight to rumours that sporadic clashes have continued to erupt throughout the past week.