Chinese police shot dead 12 people during unrest in the Xinjiang region, the government said yesterday in a rare admission security forces opened fire in the worst ethnic violence in decades.
Police shot and killed 12 “mobsters” during disturbances in the regional capital, Urumqi, on July 5, Xinhua news agency said in a report issued early yesterday that quoted the head of the Xinjiang regional government, Nur Bekri.
Some of Xinjiang’s Uighur minority, a mainly Muslim, central Asian people, assaulted members of China’s dominant Han ethnic group on July 5 in attacks that left at least 192 dead.
Uighurs say police sparked the rioting by shooting peaceful protesters who were demanding an investigation into a recent factory brawl in southern China that left at least two Uighur migrant workers dead.
However, Nur Bekri said police opened fire to prevent further bloodshed, the report said.
“The police showed as much restraint as possible during the unrest,” Nur Bekri said, adding they had initially fired shots into the air but that had failed to disperse “extremely vicious” thugs.
Three of those shot died on the spot, with nine others dying after medical treatment failed, he said.
The report gave no details of the ethnicity of the deceased or those involved in the unrest, but authorities have already pinned the blame for the unrest on Uighurs, many of whom complain of decades of Chinese repression.
Thousands of Han Chinese armed themselves with clubs, knives and other weapons and marched through Urumqi seeking vengeance on Uighurs in the days after the riots, but were mostly thwarted by a huge security force.
Xinhua also issued a report yesterday that it said supported Beijing’s line that the unrest was planned in advance.
Citing unnamed witnesses in Urumqi, it said rioters instigated violent acts in more than 50 locations throughout Urumqi, suggesting that weapons were stockpiled ahead of time.
“Knives became hot-selling products two or three days before the unrest,” it said, citing local businesses.
It also said stones that were hurled at targets or used to bludgeon victims appeared to have been trucked into the city in large numbers beforehand and that rioters appeared to have knowledge of how to quickly ignite the fuel tanks of buses and other vehicles.
However, China has already said they were orchestrated by exiled US-based Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer, who has denied the accusation.
The Xinhua reports made no mention of ethnic violence and said the unrest had initially started as a “student parade.”
Meanwhile, pro-Uighur activists in Kyrgyzstan pledged yesterday to protest the bloodshed in Xinjiang as soon as the presidential polls in the ex-Soviet nation this week are over.
“Kyrgyzstan’s Uighurs will begin to conduct protests against China’s genocide policies against Uighurs in Xinjiang immediately after the presidential elections,” said Rozmukhamed Abdulbakiyev at a ceremony in memory of those slain in China earlier this month.