Foreign Reporters Visit Prompts New Demonstration in Urumqi

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Austin Ramzy, who is in Urumqi called to report that he is witnessing a new protest that is currently underway, apparently sparked by the presence of foreign reporters. He says that the Foreign Ministry and local government officials took six buses of reporters, about 50 in all, on a trip to see a burned out car dealership on Dawangnan Road. The reporters spoke to some victims and witnesses to Sunday’s events for about half an hour. Then a Uighur woman with a small child (or two children; the situation is still confused) suddenly appeared and started complaining about her missing husband very loudly. Soon a crowd of around 30 Uighurs, mostly women in headscraves had gathered, many of them weeping, all complaining about their missing relatives: husbands, fathers, grandfathers, even one 14 year old boy, one mother told Austin. (The authorities say they have arrested some 1400 people).

Before long the crowd had swelled to several hundred and a group of riot police (members of  the People’s Armed Police) carrying shields and long truncheons and accompanied by several armoured personnel carriers began to try and clear the protesters. Some of the protesters sat down for a time. Most refused to move. That’s where the situation stands now. All of this being witnessed by a crowd of reporters stuck more or less between the police and the protesters. A core group of some 75 women are refusing to move (many others have been hustled down sidestreets by police) and chanting slogans which bystanders tell Austin mostly are calling for the release of their husbands other male relatives.

Final update: most of the protesters have dispersed or been dispersed and Austin is being pretty much dragged away by his minders.


At one point, Austin says he was dragged down a side street by some of the women who wanted to show him something. They said the police swept through their neighborhood Monday and seem to have arrested any males. They said the men were forced to take off their shoes and trousers before being taken away and showed Austin a pile of some 60-70 pairs of shoes. He wonders whether the authorities may have been clearing the neighborhood for the visit by reporters, not figuring that the mass arrests would spark a reaction by the Uighur women.

(Something similar happened (without the presence of foreign reporters) in Hetian, a town in the far south of Xinjiang after the Lahsa protests in March of last year prompted mass arrests of males apparently aimed at heading of possible demonstrations. On the market day after the arrests hundreds of women protested, itself prompting and even greater clamp down. My story here.)