News / Asia

Security Increased in China's Xinjiang Province

Peter Simpson

Teams of paramilitary police are on full alert in the western region of Xinjiang for the one-year anniversary of China's worst ethnic violence in decades. Security was also tightened in other Chinese cities.

Paramilitary police carrying riot shields and machine guns are patrolling the cities in China's restive Xinjiang province Monday.

A year ago, the streets of the capital Urumqi turned bloody when the indigenous minority Uighurs turned on the majority Han Chinese migrants. It was some of the worst ethnic violence the country has seen in decades.

The government says about 197 people died, mainly Han, and 1,700 were wounded. Uighur activists outside the country say the casualties were much higher, and most were Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking ethnic group culturally tied to Central Asia.

Ilham Tohti is a Uighur intellectual and business consultant. He set up a Web site in Chinese to foster closer ties between the two business communities. But the site was shut down after the riots and he was detained for a month.

Tohti says the fates of the Uighurs and Han Chinese are tied together. He says a lack of cultural understanding is to blame for the unrest.

Tohti says the rapid pace of change has left many Uighurs feeling alienated as plans are made by Chinese officials outside the region.

For years, China has had a Go West policy, to bring modernization and economic development to Xinjiang. The government encourages Han Chinese to settle in the resource-rich region.

But this has upset the six million native Uighurs, who now are a minority in Xinjiang. Many complain they are shut of jobs and that the government suppresses the practice of their religion, Islam.

The government denies that there is discrimination, and says that Uighurs and other ethnic minorities benefit from policies such as an exemption from the one-child population law. It blames last year's riots on separatists who wish to create an independent nation in the region.

On the anniversary, the atmosphere in Xinjiang is tense but peaceful. Stability has come at a price, however.

The security budget for the region has doubled in past 12 months to $426 million.

Now 40,000 security cameras watch the movements of the citizens and 5,000 police and other security personnel have been pulled in to boost street patrols.

Campaigns to seize illegal weapons and explosives were increased last week. Some shopkeepers and restaurant owners say police have taken away large knives and other implements that could be used as weapons.

The Chinese capital Beijing also stepped up security with armed police in riot gear seen widely across the city.

Some of China's state media have been covering the anniversary. But many news outlets blame outside forces for the trouble.

There have been pageantry shows on television showing Han and Uighurs living in harmony.

But one Uighur in Urumqi was too afraid to discuss the situation in the city with Voice of America.

After initially agreeing, she sent a text message saying she was being watched by security forces and her phone was being monitored.

"I have too many troubles at the moment. My phone is being recorded," she wrote

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