A video grab from CCTV shows a vehicle set on fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang Autonomous Region, China July 6, 2009. Similar rioting and unrest broke out in Xinjiang on June 25 and 26, 2013. (Photo: CCTV)
Knife-wielding mobs of presumably ethnic Uighur protesters clashed with Chinese police in the restive predominantly Muslim area of Xinjiang province today, setting off a series of bloody confrontations that left at least 27 people dead, including nine policemen, 10 protesters, and at least eight civilians.
Some of the fiercest fighting occurred in Shanshan county, approximately 250 kilometers east of the regional capital of Urumqi, an area that was last affected by similar unrest in July 2009. The violence today began around 6 a.m. (local time) when unidentified assailants armed with knives attacked police stations, a local government building, and a construction site in the remote Lukqun township of Shanshan county, according to Chinese state media. Although Chinese authorities did not disclose a reason behind today’s attacks, police have launched an investigation and were reportedly hunting down additional suspects who had fled the initial melee.
Dolkun Isa, secretary of the World Uighur Congress, stated in an interview with Voice of America that it was difficult to confirm exact details about today’s unrest, mostly because of the heavy police presence “and atmosphere of ‘martial law’ that he says now exists in the area.”
Tensions have remained high in Xinjiang this year between ethnic Uighur Muslims, a Turkic-speaking minority who share more cultural similarities to Central Asia than eastern China, and the majority Han Chinese. The Uighur community has historically blamed Chinese authorities for repression and discrimination. Additional violence and state-sponsored crackdowns against the Muslim minority have increased since April.
On June 20, Chinese courts in Xinjiang sentenced 19 ethnic Uighurs to prison for inciting religious extremism and other related charges. It is not clear if today’s violence was linked to the sentencing of the 19 suspects. At least some members of the Uighur population have endorsed and participated in regional terrorist and insurgent organizations, most notably the al Qaeda-linked Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party. [For background on the Turkistan Islamic Party, see LWJ report, Turkistan Islamic Party identifies senior leader killed in Afghanistan.]
Previously, 21 people were killed in April in an violent clash that included an assault on a police station near the southern city of Kashgar, close to Xinjiang’s narrow frontiers with Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the Globe and Mail.
China had reportedly installed 40,000 high-definition ‘Eagle-Eye’ surveillance cameras in Xinjiang in July 2010, a full year after a massive Uighur uprising in Urumqi left 200 dead and 1,700 injured. The Chinese Government has repeatedly shut down Internet, wireless phone service, and international phone services in Xinjiang province, including for a full year after the July 2009 riots. While it is unclear at the moment what the status of connectivity is in Xinjiang, search results for the words “Xinjiang” and “Lukqun,” in both English and Chinese, were unavailable on Chinese search engines, according to residents interviewed by Sky News.
Map Source: Sky News