Curfew Declared in China's West as Ethnic Tensions Grow

Government declares curfew as violence escalates in China's Xinjiang region.

ByEmily Macdonald and Jennifer Wu
July 07, 2009, 6:42 AM

BEIJING, July 7, 2009 — -- More violent unrest continued to unfold today in Urumqi, the capital of China's Xinjiang region, among the Chinese security forces, the Han Chinese and the Uighur minority.

Chinese state media reported that the government has now declared a curfew until 8 a.m. Wednesday to try to bring an end to the violence. Earlier today, Han Chinese threw stones and destroyed stores owned by Uighurs, members of China's Muslim minority, as police fired tear gas to stop them. Before that, about 200 Uighurs gathered in Urumqi to protest the arrests of family and friends.

The crowd consisted mostly of women in head scarves, many of whom demanded the return of their husbands. About 1,400 people have been taken into custody as Chinese authorities attempt to squash the ongoing unrest.

One woman told the Associated Press that her husband had been taken by authorities and that she would rather die than live without him.

As the women began to march, paramilitary police surrounded them, wielding assault rifles and tear gas. After about 90 minutes, the standoff ended and the women peacefully retreated into the market. Up to an estimated 200 people have been killed in Xinjiang so far, and at least another 1,000 have been injured, according to Xinhua, China's state-run news agency.

The government "has cut Internet connection" and other forms of communication "in order to quench the riot quickly and prevent violence from spreading to other places," Li Zhi, the Communist Party of China chief of Urumqi told Xinhua.

The Chinese government has accused Rebiya Kadeer, the president of the World Uighur Congress and longtime advocate of human rights for the Uighurs, of masterminding the uprisings. Kadeer was once seen by officials as a shining example of entrepreneurial success in modern China but became the target of government criticism after she expressed disapproval of the state's treatment of Uighurs. She was eventually given asylum by the United States and is in exile in Virginia.

"The Chinese government always blames me and the World Uighur Congress for problems over there," Kadeer told The Associated Press.

"Any Uighur who dares to express the slightest protest, however peaceful, is dealt with by brutal force," Kadeer said, adding that she did not support any violence by demonstrators.

The chief of the Xinjiang Communist Party of China, Wang Lequan, told Xinjiang TV that the uprising showed the belligerent and terrorist intentions of Kadeer. "The riot has destroyed the spiritual support with which the terrorist, separatist and extremist forces cheated the people to participate in the so-called 'Jihad,'" Wang said.

Referring to the situation as a severe lesson taught in blood, Wang called on officials to implement the greatest measures against threats to stability in Xinjiang.

Chinese nationwide are taking to the Internet, writing to express their discontent. Censors, aware of the possible ripple effect of their postings, have acted quickly to remove some of the posts and related blogs. Few express sympathy for the Uighurs.

One person named "Chang Qing" posted an entry on the popular portal,, saying, "Destroy the conspiracy, strike hard against these saboteurs, and strike even more fiercely than before."

Such responses are not atypical.

Others warned of vengeance on the part of China's predominant ethnic group, Han Chinese. For example, "Jason," on the popular Chinese search engine,, wrote, "The blood debt will be repaid. Han compatriots unite and rise up."

Ethnic tensions between the Hans and the minority group have been bubbling in the far western province of Xinjiang for decades. The Uighur population has accused the Han Chinese, who often outnumber them in the urban areas of the Xinjiang region, of marginalizing them. The Uighurs cite among their grievances that the Han Chinese benefit far more from government investment and development.

The protests, which began Sunday, reportedly were set off by a conflict between Han Chinese and Uighur workers at a factory in Guangdong and subsequent accusations by Uighurs of negligence by investigating Chinese officials.

The Associated Press contributed to the reporting of this story.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events