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Urumqi Residents Hope Ethnic Tensions Will End Soon


The recent violence in China's northwest Xinjiang province has forced Chinese President Hu Jintao to rush home from a G8 summit meeting in Italy, and Chinese security officials said Wednesday, the government will punish protesters in that deadly riot. Security forces have reinforced the capital but residents hope to resume their normal lives soon.

Police vehicles mounted with loudspeakers drive around Urumqi's city center during the daylight hours broadcasting a message of racial harmony. The words are from a speech Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Wang Lequan delivered on Tuesday, in which he asked angry Han Chinese not to escalate the violence by attacking their Uighur neighbors.

At 9:00 p.m. the sun is still up, and many city residents are taking their usual evening stroll by the central People's Square. The square is closed and surrounded by riot police standing behind full-body shields, some armed large automatic weapons. The square was one of the sites of this week's violent protests.

Crowds of older people and families gather at the four corners of the People's Square, waiting to see if they can enter and enjoy the public space.

It seems the majority of residents are waiting for their lives to return to normal. A pair of middle-aged men, one ethnic Han and one Uighur, say they have never seen ethnic conflict of this magnitude in their lives.

Sun Wenwei, 55, is ethnic Han and owns a small business selling construction materials. He says no one has been able to work for the past few days.

He also says people do not feel safe to go out at night.

The exact cause of the violence is still under debate among the people on the street. Sun and his Uighur friend say the rioters were mostly people under 30 who were angry after reading online about the Guangdong factory incident.

A Uighur man standing outside a traditional Chinese medicine hospital has a different opinion. Ha Li works for a transportation company, and he says he agrees with the government's position that outside agitators, like World Uighur Congress leader Rabiya Kadeer, instigated the violent protests.

Ha Li says that he thinks the rioters should be punished severely, even if it means the death penalty.

Local authorities recently suggested that some of the more violent offenders would be eligible for the death penalty. On Wednesday Urumqi Party Committee Secretary Li Zhi said the rioters who acted with great cruelty will receive the ultimate punishment.

The government says 156 people were killed in Sunday's riots and about 1,000 others were injured in clashes between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese.
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