More Unrest in Troubled Xinjiang Region

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The details of recent violence in Urumqi are surprising, but the news of further unrest in the capital of China’s northwestern Xinjiang region isn’t. State media reported that police arrested 15 people this week for attacks using syringes.

Possibly in response to those stabbings, residents of the city gathered today to protest poor security conditions, the Associated Press reported:

Han resident Zhao Jianzhuang said he had joined a large crowd of protesters at a downtown intersection who were being blocked by riot police from marching on central People’s Square, less than 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) away.

He said people were pushing and shoving police and some in the crowd had been beaten. Participants were shouting slogans including “The government is useless,” and calling for the dismissal of the regional Communist Party boss Wang Lequan, a noted hard-liner and ally of President Hu Jintao.

On July 5 members of the Uighur ethnic minority rioted in the city, attacking majority Han. Two days later thousands of Han gathered to carry out revenge attacks. Paramilitary forces were able to keep the revenge mobs from the Uighur quarter, preventing another bloodbath. But some Uighurs were seriously beaten and possibly killed that day. All told the July violence left nearly 200 dead and more than 1,600 injured.

By dispatching thousands of security forces in the city, the government showed it could prevent further mass attacks. But the tension is still evident. When I was in Urumqi in July Uighurs were leaving the city for towns like Kashgar, with larger Uighur populations. (Uighurs make up only about 15% of Urumqi.) The Han majority are still angry about the deadly rioting. While trials are planned for more than 200 suspects in the July attacks, there have been conflicting reports about when they will take place.

With preparations for Oct. 1 celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic now underway, authorities are even more wary of any disturbances. The official strategy has been to focus local outrage away from Urumqi’s Uighur population and toward Rebiya Kadeer, a U.S.-based Uighur rights activist who China blames for instigation the violence. But there’s still plenty anger at home for them to worry about.