As Unrest Spreads, Chinese President Skips Summit
Clashes Continue in Western City Amid Crackdown
By Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, July 8, 2009
URUMQI, China, July 8 -- Chinese President Hu Jintao canceled plans to attend a major summit in Italy and flew home early Wednesday after reports that chaos and panic had spread throughout the capital of China's far western region of Xinjiang.
Since clashes erupted Sunday between the region's Muslim Uighur minority and the dominant Han Chinese, leaving more than 150 dead, the government has deployed police and paramilitary troops, closed mosques, instituted a curfew and rounded up at least 1,400 people. Hu's withdrawal from the Group of Eight summit, reported by state media, signaled his government's growing concern about the unrest that continued to flare across this city.
Early Tuesday morning, a group of several hundred Uighur protesters, most of them women in head scarves, gathered to demand that their detained husbands and brothers be released and their dead be accounted for. At midday, Uighur and Han Chinese men traded blows at the train station until riot police dispersed them with tear gas. In the late afternoon, hundreds of Han Chinese men armed with everyday items such as kitchen knives, shovels, hammers and pipes began smashing Uighur food stalls and stores, and headed to a local mosque.
Around the same time, the No. 2 People's Hospital was under siege as protesters demanding the bodies of the dead, which have not yet been released to the families, clashed with police who fired warning shots at the crowd.
Witnesses reported casualties in Tuesday's clashes, but the local government did not immediately say how many people had been injured or killed, if any.
The continuing violence underscored the extent of the mistrust between Uighurs and Han Chinese and how close the city remains to another major clash. The conflict erupted after what started as a calm demonstration by Uighurs apparently spun out of control. Since then, protests have broken out in Kashgar, Yili, Aksu and other major cities in Xinjiang.
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