A night-time curfew has been reimposed in the restive western Chinese city of Urumqi, officials have announced. The curfew had been suspended for the last two days after officials said they had the city under control.
Mosques in the city were ordered to remain closed on Friday – but at least two opened at the request of crowds of Muslim Uighurs that gathered outside. The city remains tense after Sunday’s outbreak of ethnic violence that killed 156 people and wounded more than 1,000. Thousands of people – both Han Chinese and Uighurs – are reportedly trying to leave the city.
The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville, who is in Urumqi, said the authorities announced the city would be under curfew on Friday from 7pm local time (7am EDT).
News of the curfew came as hundreds of Muslim Uighurs defied an order to stay at home for Friday prayers. Officials had posted notices outside Urumqi’s mosques instructing people to stay at home to worship on Friday, the holiest day of the week in Islam.
President Hu Jintao was forced to leave the G8 summit in Italy on Wednesday to attend to the crisis as thousands of troops remain on Urumqi’s streets to try to maintain order.
On Thursday, Beijing again accused US-based Uighur leader-in-exile Rebiya Kadeer of organizing the disorder. The official news agency Xinhua reported government sources had said there was evidence linking the World Uighur Congress, led by Kadeer, to the riots.
It said that in the days beforehand, the group met, plotting to instigate the unrest using the internet and mobile phones, and that Mrs Kadeer had tipped off her brother in Urumqi on the eve of the disorder.
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|Update with Mary Kay Magistad (July 8):|
|Mary Kay Magistad on the escalating ethnic tensions (July 7):|
|Lisa Mullins speaks with Xiao Qiang director of the University of California, Berkeley’s China Internet Project, about China’s strategy for handling media coverage of the protests in western China:|
|Mary Kay Magistad reports on what led to the violence in western China (July 6):|
|Listen to Mary Kay Magistad on PBS NewsHour Online (July 6):|
The Uighurs are Muslims. Their language is related to Turkish and they regard themselves as culturally and ethnically close to other Central Asian nations. The region’s economy has for centuries revolved around agriculture and trade, with towns such as Kashgar thriving as hubs along the Silk Road.
In the early part of the 20th Century, the Uighurs briefly declared independence. The region was brought under the complete control of communist China in 1949. Officially, Xinjiang is now described by China as an autonomous region, like Tibet to its south.
What are China’s concerns about the Uighurs?
Beijing says Uighur militants have been waging a violent campaign for an independent state by plotting bombings, sabotage and civic unrest. Since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, China has increasingly portrayed its Uighur separatists as auxiliaries of al-Qaeda. It has accused them of receiving training and indoctrination from Islamist militants in neighboring Afghanistan.
However, little public evidence has been produced in support of these claims. More than 20 Uighurs were captured by the US military after its invasion of Afghanistan. Though imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for six years, they were not charged with any offence. Albania accepted five in 2006, four were allowed to resettle in Bermuda in June, 2009, while the Pacific island nation of Palau has agreed to take the others.
What complaints have been made against the Chinese in Xinjiang?
Activists say the Uighurs’ religious, commercial and cultural activities have been gradually curtailed by the Chinese state. China is accused of intensifying its crackdown on the Uighurs after street protests in the 1990s – and again, in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. Over the past decade, many prominent Uighurs have been imprisoned or have sought asylum abroad after being accused of terrorism.
China is said to have exaggerated the threat from Uighur separatists in order to justify repression in the region. Beijing has also been accused of seeking to dilute Uighur influence by arranging the mass immigration of Han Chinese, the country’s majority ethnic group, to Xinjiang. Han Chinese currently account for roughly 40% of Xinjiang’s population, while about 45% are Uighurs.
What is the current situation in Xinjiang?
Over the past decade, major development projects have brought prosperity to Xinjiang’s big cities. The activities of local and foreign journalists in the region are closely monitored by the Chinese state and there are few independent sources of news from the region.
China has been keen to highlight improvements made to the region’s economy while Uighurs interviewed by the press have avoided criticizing Beijing. However, occasional attacks on Chinese targets suggest Uighur separatism remains a potent and potentially violent force.
A protest in July in Urumqi, the region’s capital, turned violent, with about 140 people killed and hundreds injured. Authorities blamed Xinjiang separatists based outside China for the unrest, while Uighur exiles said police had fired indiscriminately on a peaceful protest calling for an investigation into the deaths of two Uighurs in clashes with Han Chinese at a factory in southern China.