Mobs wielding makeshift weapons roamed Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang region, yesterday despite a massive show of force by Chinese troops that brought some calm.
Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) abandoned a G8 summit in Italy to tackle one of China’s worst spikes in ethnic tensions in decades.
Military helicopters circled Urumqi as thousands of soldiers and riot police filled the city shouting out “protect the people.”
“We support this,” said a 45-year-old Han Chinese man as he watched the troops roll by in trucks. “But they should have got here sooner. It took them three days to do this. Why so long?”
After authorities blamed Uighurs for unrest on Sunday that authorities say left 154 people dead, Han Chinese took to the streets on Tuesday with makeshift weapons vowing to defend themselves.
After a curfew was declared on Tuesday, Chinese authorities appeared determined to show they were able to maintain order.
Thousands of riot police lined up on a main road in Urumqi dividing the city center from a Uighur district, with soldiers behind them.
The security build-up had an impact with fewer people wielding weapons taking to the streets, and Urumqi Mayor Jerla Isamudin told reporters in the late afternoon that the situation in the city was “under control.”
He also warned that anyone found guilty of murder in connection to the unrest would be given the death penalty.
The Chinese Communist Party boss of Urumqi also said the government would seek the death penalty for anyone found to be behind the deaths of people killed in riots.
Li Zhi (栗智) said many people accused of murder had already been detained, mostly students.
But tensions remained high, with some Han Chinese and Uighurs continuing to arm themselves with sticks, poles, knives and other weapons, leading to confrontations and violence.
In one incident, about 200 Uighurs armed with sticks, pipes and rocks began protesting directly in front of a police cordon that was dividing their neighborhood from a Han-populated area.
A smaller group of Uighurs had been trading insults and accusations with Han who were on the other side of the cordon and also armed with makeshift weapons.
The crowd of Uighurs grew after a helicopter dropped leaflets blaming Sunday’s unrest on exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, but they also claimed police had overnight allowed Han Chinese to freely attack Muslim areas.
Highlighting the severity of the crisis, the government announced Hu had cut short his trip to Italy for the G8 summit.
“I have never seen a Chinese president shorten a trip abroad before ... there is clear concern,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University.
Turkey yesterday called on China to secure a quick end to the “atrocity” in Xinjiang and show restraint in its response, saying it cannot ignore the plight of the region’s Turkic-speaking Uighurs.
“We expect a swift end to the events amounting to atrocity, the prevalence of common sense ... and the immediate implementation of the necessary measures in line with universal human rights,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
“The Uighurs are a community of ethnic brothers whose fate concerns us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said earlier.
Also See: Kadeer says 400 killed in Xinjiang
Also See: Internet plays key role in Uighur unrest