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China Blames Separatists for Deadly Xinjiang Riots


China blames extremists intent on creating an independent Xinjiang for the bloody riots that killed nearly 200 people earlier this month in the region's capital, Urumqi.

Wu Shimin, the vice minister of China's State Ethnic Affairs Commission, says the protesters who caused the violence in Urumqi were not motivated by economic factors.

Wu says the rioters were solely seeking independence for the far northwestern region of Xinjiang. But he says China will never allow them to realize their goal.

Authorities say unrest in Xinjiang began July 5, when a peaceful protest by ethnic Uighurs in Urumqi turned violent after police intervened. The Uighurs went on a rampage, smashing windows, burning cars and beating people from the country's dominant Han Chinese ethnic group.

The government says 197 people died and more than 1,600 were wounded. Chinese officials have even made a rare admission that police killed 12 people during the rioting. Uighurs say the casualty toll is much higher, and includes far more Uighurs than the government reports.

They also say the government has detained hundreds of Uighurs since the violence, including many who had nothing to do with it.

Wu says the riot was perpetrated by what Beijing calls the "three forces of evil" -extremism, terrorism and separatism.

Wu accused extremists of having engaged in violent and "even terrorist activities" for nearly 80 years in their drive to seek a separate homeland, which they call East Turkestan.

Uighurs are mostly Muslim, but Wu said religious extremism was not a factor. His comments come one day after the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Urumqi police as alleging that women wearing long, black Islamic robes and head scarves had been the ringleaders in the unrest.

The incident has led to heightened ethnic tensions in Urumqi. Two days after the rioting, vigilante groups of ethnic Han attacked Uighurs.

Wu acknowledged that what he referred to as "some people" in Urumqi did take to the streets after the initial riot. But he says they acted only out of indignation for the crimes committed by the rioters and sorrow for the loss of their loved ones.

Despite his seemingly sympathetic comments, Wu says he believes all ethnic groups need to go through what he calls "normal channels and adopt legal means to express their opinions."

He added that all people are equal before the law, regardless of ethnicity, and that anyone who has violated the law should be severely punished.

Uighurs, who are ethnically close to the people of Central Asia, have long complained of discrimination. The government places tough restrictions on the practice of Islam and bans practicing Muslims from most government jobs. In addition, many are angry about the massive numbers of Han the government encouraged to move to Xinjiang, making the Uighurs a minority in some areas of their traditional home.

The government denies there is discrimination and points out that minority groups get benefits Han do not, such as permission to have more than one child.

Xinjiang authorities have decided to double the amount of compensation that is paid to the families of innocent civilians killed in the riot, to nearly $62,000.

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