The Guardian reports that there has been widespread violence in Urumqi, the provinical capital of Xinjiang. Official reports place casualties at 140 so far (though this is impossible to verify). The protests were said to have started when several thousand people rallied in the grand bazaar to protest at the death of two Uighur migrants, and injuries suffered by hundreds of others, during an ethnic conflict between workers in a factory in Guangdong, southern China, last month. If this is the case, then it marks a shift from previous protests, most of which have have been at the provincial level (see my article at Eurozine for background and the history of such protests). One would predict an even more intense crackdown than usual from the authorities- nothing disturbs them more than nationally-organised protest.
The official explanation is that “the violence was masterminded by the separatist World Uyghur Congress led by Rebiya Kadeer, according to the regional government. Rebiya Kadeer, a former businesswoman in China, was detained in1999 on charges of harming national security. She was released on bail on March 17, 2005 to seek medical treatment in the United States.”
Whilst there is no evidence of Kadeer ever having done much more than send a few newspapers to her husband (let alone instigating a riot via the internet), it is interesting that the government refuses to mention the political aspect of the riots, so as (in the case of the riots in Yining in 1997) to portray the rioters as apolitical criminals intent on looting and destruction.
As for the events in Guandong, the government said “that three forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism made use of a fight between Uygur and Han ethnic workers in a toy factory in Guangdong Province on June 26, in which two Uygur workers died, to creat (sic) chaos.
“Nur Bekri said the bodies of the two Uygur workers in the factory fight have been sent back by plane to Xinjiang for burial. Police in Xinjiang and Guangdong are jointly investigating the incident.
“The government of Shaoguan City, where the toy factory is located, and the factory are trying their best to help Uygur workers go back to work as soon as possible, he added.
“The fight was triggered by the sexual (sic) of a female Han worker assault by a Uygur coworker, he said.”
More on this to follow (not least the dubious implication (as I read it) that it all stems from an attempted rape by a Uighur male.