China blames separatists, not policies, for riots
China on Tuesday defended its policies on ethnic minorities saying violence in Xinjiang that killed nearly 200 people this month was triggered by separatists and not its treatment of Uighurs.
During a televised news conference, the vice minister of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission blamed an underground separatist movement of Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uighurs and said China will never tolerate secession in its far western region.
“We know those behind the violence were … seeking the independence of Xinjiang. To this, I can clearly tell them it will never happen,” Wu Shimin said.”We can, however, continue to meet the reasonable demands to improve the lives of all ethnic groups in the Xinjiang region.”
Wu said China intends to continue the”success” of its current ethnic policies that focus on the economic development of the rugged Central Asian region _ policies that Uighurs say have diluted or repressed their religion, language and culture in favor of the dominant Han ethnic group.
Tensions between the groups led to the country’s worst unrest in decades July 5. The government says 197 people died and more than 1,700 were wounded. Most of the dead were Han Chinese, though Uighurs say they believe many more of their community were killed in the ensuing government crackdown.
On that evening, a group of Uighurs had gathered in Urumqi to protest the deaths of two fellow Uighurs at a factory in southern China. It turned violent after police intervened, with mobs of Uighurs rampaging through the streets, burning cars and attacking mostly Han Chinese. In subsequent days, angry groups of up to 1,000 Han men, wielding homemade weapons, took to the streets seeking revenge.
Chinese officials this week said police killed 12 people during the rioting _ a rare acknowledgment by the government that security forces opened fire.
The Chinese government has repeatedly said the July 5 riots were orchestrated by separatists working inside and outside the country, though there has been little evidence to back that up.
This week, it released accounts by witnesses saying they saw protesters sending text messages at the start of the protest and that rioters appeared to have stockpiled weapons in advance. But the flare-up seemed more like a spontaneous outburst of violence than a premeditated one.
On July 13, a week after the riots, police fatally shot two Uighur men and wounded a third in an incident that showed how tense the city remained. The Urumqi government recently released footage from security cameras of that day.
Surveillance cameras inside a mosque and on the streets showed three men entering a mosque carrying a heavy bag that appeared to contain homemade weapons. The three unrolled a banner in front of worshippers and attempted to encourage others to join them. When they were rebuffed, they walked out.
Wielding long knives, two men were seen running in the streets before they fell to the ground as gunshots rang out, apparently fired by police. A third man could be seen lying wounded and bloody on the street before he was taken away in an ambulance.
In recent weeks, China has poured security forces into the capital, with security remaining tight in Urumqi and the rest of Xinjiang.
Liu Wanqing, director of the supervision department of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, said overall the violence was not a result of religious or ethnic tensions.
“It should be said that people of all ethnic groups, including the Uighur people, were victims of the violent crimes. Therefore, we say that this was not an ethnic issue nor an issue of ethnic relations nor does it affect the national unity of our country,” he said.
China has repeatedly blamed outside agitators and the influence of the”three evil forces” _ extremism, terrorism and separatism. Specificially, it has blamed leading Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer for instigating the protests that led to violence when police stepped in.
In Washington, D.C., Kadeer, who lives in exile, has denied it. On Monday, she urged the Obama administration to more strongly condemn what she called China’s continuing crackdown on Uighurs.
Kadeer told reporters that China was still”hunting down” Uighurs involved in the riots.
Associated Press writer Chi-Chi Zhang contributed to this report.