The government has declared that the instigators of violence are exiled Uygurs, including Rebiya Kadeer, exiled after spending years in Chinese prisons. Members of the community of exiled Uyghurs claim that the demonstration had begun peacefully and that the police fired indiscriminately on the crowd.
According to some local witnesses, yesterday evening, between 2 and 3 thousand Uygurs, the Muslim ethnic group living in Xinjiang, gathered in the streets in central Urumqi, and clashed with at least 1000police. Police charged the crowd, firing on them and dispersing protesters who went on to break windows and burn cars and buses. To date, Urumqi is under a strict curfew.
The demonstrators said they wanted to demonstrate against their marginalisation by the Han (Chinese) population that in Xinjiang and throughout China controls the local economy and administration.
More precisely, they were protesting the death of two Uygurs in southern China, in a series of cashes between workers from the two ethnic groups.
According to Xinhua, the clashes occurred in Shaoguan (Guangdong), and were caused by a false accusation of rape of workers in Xinjiang. It should be noted that the lack of a labour force in south China, has forced Beijing to facilitate the emigration of ethnic Han people towards the coast. But this has given rise to difficulties and increased competition for jobs, particularly as many Chinese firms, hit by the crisis, lay off their workers.
Revolts over work and unemployment are on the increase. According to the Ministry for Internal Security, there are at least 87 thousand a year. If the crisis deepens, there is a risk that this type of trade union struggle will turn into an inter-ethnic war.
Uprisings in Xinjiang date back over half a century. The Uygur population claim more autonomy from the central government and groups of Muslims in the Islamic Movement of East Turkistan are responsible for terrorist attacks.
The Beijing regime’s heavy hand can be seen in the large number of arrests and death sentences, which number in their hundreds each year. In order to curb "terrorism", Beijing controls the entire religious life of the Uygurs: controlling the speeches of imams, banning young people from participating in prayer in the mosque until they are 18, the continued demolition of mosques and Islamic schools.
According to Forum 18, a Protestant agency based in Oslo, religious persecution in Xinjiang has primarily economic reasons and is intended to stamp out the identity of the Uygurs and expropriate the areas wealth in oil and natural gas. Because of this, over the years Beijing has promoted migration to the region of millions of Han Chinese, who are now at least 50% of the approximately 20 million residents: they have taken control of trade and places of power, while the Uygurs (42%) are mainly farmers.
The Chinese government attaches all responsibilities for the uprising to groups of exiled Uygurs and in particular to Rebiya Kadeer, now exiled in the United States, after spending over 5 years in prison for having defended the greater autonomy of his ethnicity. According to Xinhua, yesterday’s demonstration was “an organized and premeditated violent crime" to overthrow the power of the Chinese.
But the Uygurs in exile claim that the demonstrations are a sign of the Uygurs intolerance of Han political and economic discrimination and oppression. Experts from Human Rights Watch say that in labelling the ethnic clashes "subversive”, the Chinese government is adopting a method already used and abused in the uprisings in Tibet last year.
Uygurs and human rights activists’ fear that in the coming days there will be an increase in repression: there have already been raids and arrests in the universities. China is preparing for October to celebrate 60 years of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China and is implementing heavy checks and arrests to avoid any unpleasant surprises.