Urumqi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Overnight clashes between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in the western province of Xinjiang have resulted in 27 victims, almost all protesters killed by police who opened fire on them. The violence took place in the desert area near Turpan, about 280 km from the provincial capital Urumqi. According to the official news agency Xinhua, the officers opened fire on "a mob of rioters."
Before the police opened fire 17 people had already died (9 police officers and 8 civilians). The crowd had stormed a police station and a government building. A local official speaking anonymously, said officers "opened fire on the crowd" to protect the buildings killing 10 civilians. Several dozen were injured on both sides, who have since been admitted to the local hospital.
The spark that ignited the clashes is unclear. The province has long been the epicenter of violence and tensions between the ethnic Uyghur - once the majority in the area - and Han. The central government in Beijing has encouraged the emigration of Han to the province in an attempt to "balance out" the social reality of Xinjiang, but the ongoing fighting is proof that the experiment has failed.
The Uyghurs are Turkic-speaking Muslims: for several decades they have had an adversarial relationship with the Chinese central government. After a few (unsuccessful) attempts to gain independence as "East Turkestan", the ethnic leaders have asked Beijing to be allowed to safeguard their local language, culture and religion. The Chinese government - while giving tax breaks and social benefits - decided instead to use a heavy hand and launched a campaign of repression and control in the whole area. The heavy hand of the regime is felt even on the Islamic religious community, suspected of propagating a terrorist and fundamentalist vision of Islam. Islamic publications are censored, the sermons of imams controlled and young people under the age of 18 are banned from attending the mosque.